MINNEAPOLIS — Carter Coughlin loved Cinnamon Toast Crunch as a kid; it paired well with watching film of his youth football games.
Sitting at the kitchen island in their Eden Prairie home, the 12-year-old gobbled up the sugary cereal as he scanned the footage and took in morsels of tips from his dad Bob Coughlin.
“I don’t know how much I could soak in game film in sixth grade or whatever, but regardless I wanted to watch it because I loved playing football,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin’s love for sports — and its accompanying lessons — were fostered by a first family of Gopher athletics.
Coughlin’s maternal grandfather Tom Moe was a star football and baseball player in the late 1950s and early ‘60s and was interim athletics director at the U from 1999-2002. His mom Jennie (Moe) Coughlin was a standout tennis player at the U from 1989-92, while Bob played defensive line for the Gophers in that span.
Now 10 years after those multitasking breakfasts, Coughlin, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound all-Big Ten senior defensive end, will play in his final homecoming game for the Gophers when they face Illinois at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, a venue Moe paved the way to be built 10 years ago.
Carter visits “Papa” Moe to hear stories about his grandfather’s favorite topic: anything maroon and gold. There are tales, sometimes on repeat, about how they ate steak for every meal or the first time they were given a barbell.
“They had no idea what to do with it,” Carter relayed. “Now look at our weight room.”
But for Carter, and his cousin — U freshman backup quarterback Cole Kramer — they’ve also read Papa’s wisdom in the form of a book: “Rules for Young Athletes,” written under his pen name, Grandpa Moe.
While Jennie and her brother Mike, a backup QB at the U in the 1980s, lived by their father’s words growing up in Edina, that newer text has been circulated to his grandkids.
There’s simple phrases such as: don’t quit; outwork the opposition; operate with integrity; consider it a privilege to practice.
There’s also a cardinal rule: Learn from defeat but never accept it. “That’s classic Papa right there,” Jennie said.
Bob Coughlin coached Carter, the oldest of their five kids, in football from third to seventh grade.
Everyone wanted to be on the Coughlins’ team, the Red Bulls, because Bob made it enjoyable, albeit with a fair amount of intensity. That included Erniece Winfield, who tried to politic for her son, Antoine Jr., to be drafted onto the Red Bulls. But following the rules, Bob had to select Carter in the first round of the draft, and Antoine was too good to be available in the second.
“‘Listen Bobby, you have got to get Antoine on Carter’s team,’” Bob recalled Erniece saying. He replied, “Erniece, there is no way in heck they will ever let Carter and Antoine play on the same team.”
Carter’s eighth grade year was going to be his last coached by his dad, but Carter broke his ankle during a pick-up basketball tournament and missed the entire football season. Carter’s world was crushed, but Bob looked beyond the lost year.
“My dad said, ‘If you push yourself, you can be one of the best linebackers in the country,’ and I was like, ‘Whatever you say, dad,’ Carter recalled. “It was that belief that was pushing me from behind my entire childhood. My parents and family believe in me so much that it made me believe in myself.”
Coughlin truly started to believe his dad’s view when he had a “huge hit” in a varsity game against Minnetonka his sophomore season. Bob watched on the sideline as a new assistant coach. Soon after that came a scholarship offer from Pittsburgh, followed by offers from Minnesota and other major programs.
Carter gravitated to his father because of his football background, diving more and more as the years have progressed into the strategy Bob was trying to show Carter in the kitchen.
But Jennie — who Carter and Bob agree is the most competitive of the three — would pass on the mental aspects of the game she picked up in her individual sport of tennis.
“The more beautiful part of it is Carter actually listened; I wasn’t just mom who didn’t know,” Jennie said. “He respected what I had to say.”
When Carter stuck by his commitment to the Gophers over Big Ten titan Ohio State, the Moe/Coughlin clan was elated. Then the Coughins started hosting big groups of players at the family cabin on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes north of Brainerd.
Jennie and Bob made runs to Costco for the enormous amount of food and supplies necessary for groups of up to 20 players and watched the boys bond.
“The first year was funny,” Jennie said. “Some of these kids had never seen a lake. Some of them wore socks in the water because they were like, ‘What is underneath that water?’ Some didn’t know how to swim, had never been on a boat or a jet ski.”
Bob would tow up to 16 Gophers players on tubes behind their boat, with a warning from Jennie.
“She would be screaming at me, ‘If you injure these guys, we will be kicked out of the state!’” Bob said.
“We got to know the boys way beyond football and have come to love them,” Jennie continued. “Many of them aren’t near family. They live somewhere else. Its nice to have a family that they know is here and is going to be at every football game and are available if something were to happen. Not that we have had to be called. It’s good to know we are there.”
One cabin weekend has become known as “The Olympics.” Carter’s younger brother, Quinn, a former walk-on for the Gophers in 2017, and his roommates, Tanner Morgan and Jake Paulson, will join Carter’s roommates — Winfield, Kamal Martin, Thomas Barber and Clay Geary — for a cornucopia of games. They play spike ball, ping-pong, basketball, volleyball — you name it.
As Carter’s collegiate career comes to an end, “The Olympics” are expected to continue. He told his mom: “I could picture us doing this for the next 20 years.”
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who has begun hosting recruits at his house on Lake Minnetonka, relishes how he inherited Coughlin from former coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys.
“He’s a legacy player,” Fleck said. “… We need more legacy players in our program. We do everything we can to make that happen.”
Fleck discussed how he pours energy into youth camps to create fun environments, and legacy recruits are being targeted by the program, because names mean something.
“You can see why Bob loves the University of Minnesota,” Fleck said. “Bob loved his experience, good or bad, highs and lows, loved it all. He knows what this institution in the state in this Twin Cities area did for him. And he wants his son to have that as well. It’s a well-respected name in our state. I think everybody knows the Coughlin (and Moe) name. And Carter is doing a great job of upholding his family’s name.”
Carter, Bob and Jennie are wholly invested in this Gophers team and say they aren’t thinking a bit about Carter’s budding NFL prospects next year.
“Carter’s commitment to this team is something that I’ve really respected in him,” Jennie said. “He is just not a selfish kid. I say this with tears … Not many people, uh … If I were to complement someone on his team, I think a lot of players would feel defensive by that or competitive and uniquely that kid (Carter) just jumps right on.
“I get home and say, ‘Can you even believe Antoine did that?’ or Kamal or ‘how about Thomas?’
“He’s like, ‘I know!’”
Sounds like he’s talking about family.