Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague established the expectations he has for the men’s basketball program last month when he fired Tubby Smith, even after one victory in the NCAA tournament.
What did that decision signify for the long-suffering Gophers football program?
“I think it shows we have high expectations, but when I look at football, I don’t know if anybody on this earth has higher expectations for himself or his program than [coach] Jerry Kill,” Teague said Tuesday. “So the basketball change was difficult, but I think something had to happen.”
Teague is approaching the anniversary of his own hiring date on April 23. He’s been around Kill’s team through one season, one national signing day for recruits, and 10 spring practices.
Asked to describe his vision for a successful football program, Teague said it’s a team that’s “in the upper half of the league and competing for championships.” The team would show improvement in recruiting and player development, he said, and generate “an incredible amount of hope each year for our success.”
The Gophers went 3-9 and 6-7 in Kill’s first two seasons. His track record suggests the Gophers could take another step this fall. After going 5-18 in Kill’s first two seasons at Southern Illinois, the Salukis went 10-2 in 2003. And after going 13-13 in his first two seasons at Northern Illinois, the Huskies went 10-3 in 2010.
“I’m real excited, but I think we’ve all got to be careful about putting a number on how many games we think we should win to see progress,” Teague said. “Building a football program is an art. And as long as I’m excited about what I see — his management of the program, his building of the program, doing all the right things behind the scenes, recruiting really well, developing our kids and making retention a big priority — then we’re growing.”
Kill’s recruiting classes at Minnesota have ranked toward the bottom of the Big Ten, but Teague said: “That does not cause me any pause. I follow recruiting quite a bit, and … football kids develop. They grow. A lot of football is growing into your body. And I am so confident and so impressed with Jerry’s group and how they evaluate. They trust their own judgment, and I think that’s tremendous.”
The contract Teague gave new basketball coach Richard Pitino allows him to spend up to $50,000 per year on a private jet for recruiting. Will Kill have access to a private plane now, too?
“Yeah, we’ll do that for Jerry moving forward,” Teague said. “It won’t necessarily be in his contract but, when appropriate, we’ll use those planes. They provide a lot of logistical benefits more than any type of luxury. To get our coaches from one point to another quickly, to see multiple recruits in one day and get them back for practice is invaluable.”
Kill and Pitino both make $1.2 million per year, ranking them the lowest in the Big Ten among schools that disclose salaries. In February, Teague made it clear he’d like to give Kill a bump in pay.
“It’s something we want to be smart about,” Teague said. “We want to be good stewards of our money, but at the same time, we want to have competitive salaries compared to our Big Ten brethren.”
The same goes for Kill’s assistants — the bulk of his staff has been together for more than a decade, creating rare continuity.
“Staffs are so important, and some of the salaries [for assistant coaches, nationally] are really going through the roof,” Teague said. “But we’ll work hard to compensate them and make them feel appreciated going forward.”
Teague said the athletics department needs to work out some logistical issues before unveiling its long-awaited facilities plan, which would include a new indoor football building. The overall project is expected to cost between $80 million and $125 million, paid through fundraising and the sale of bonds.
“We have 750 student athletes, and we have one indoor facility, and we live in a cold environment,” Teague said. “That’s not just a football issue, that’s a student-athlete issue across the board.”