University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has been here for just under two years, so I thought it was a good idea to get his reaction to all the developments in the athletic department since his hiring.
The interview was conducted after basketball coach Tubby Smith was fired, but Kaler wouldn’t comment about the reasons for a change.
Asked about the hiring of Richard Pitino to replace Smith, Kaler said: “I think a successful search is one in which you get the right person in the right job with the right skills at the right time and we have done that. The university, our student-athletes, and Gophers fans everywhere scored big in the hiring of Coach Pitino. He will bring inspiration, energy and passion to our program, and he will develop our student-athletes on this Williams [Arena] court and in the classroom.”
Pitino and football coach Jerry Kill are being paid $1.2 million a year — a lot more than Kaler, who earns a base salary of $610,000. Kaler started the interview by saying he knows that coaching salaries might be getting out of control, but for now it’s what colleges need to pay to compete.
Q: What’s your reaction to all these schools hiring coaches and paying buyouts
A: I think the salary escalation for the big revenue [sport] coaches really has gotten to a pretty serious level. I think the saying is, I guess, that the market will bear these salaries, but I don’t know how much longer the revenue side will hold up. It’s a tough market to be in. You want to get high-quality coaches, and you see the salaries around the country that are getting paid and it’s a tough business to be in. I don’t know how much longer it’s going to be sustainable.
Q: How can it be corrected?
A: Well, unfortunately, it is a free market. As long as you have one buyer of that coach’s services who’s willing to pay, then that drives the prices of those services up for everybody else.
Q: How can Minnesota compete? Ohio State has a $120 million budget, Iowa has about $100 [million], Wisconsin has about $100 [million]. All three of those schools sell out football, which gets big revenue. That puts you in a tough position.
A: We are in a challenging position because we’re in the Big Ten. I have always said that if we’re in the Big Ten, then we need to play as if we belong in the Big Ten. That’s my goal. We need to have coaches in place that can get us there. I think in Jerry, we do. I think in our hockey, we do. We need leadership at all of our programs that will let us be competitive. It’s not all about the dollars and cents. It’s about the leadership that the coaches bring, their ability to recruit, how they can advance the skill levels of their players. We do have the resources necessary to be competitive in these sports. I want us to be competitive in these sports.
Q: How about the facilities? Your facilities compared to say Nebraska or schools that have all of these new basketball practice facilities. It’s tough to compete in recruiting.
A: There is an arms race in the facilities side, too. One of the tasks that I gave Norwood [Teague, the Gophers athletic director] was to put together a facilities master plan and that’s underway. That will help us set priorities around what we need and then we’ll reach out to philanthropists who believe in Gopher athletics and want us to be better and have those kinds of facilities. We’ll raise the money to work our way down those facilities lists.
Q: Now you need $450,000 for lights at the baseball stadium, which they haven’t been able to raise.
A: I didn’t know that.
Q: That’s what they need and haven’t been able to raise that, although Kill just raised half-million to upgrade the Bierman locker room. He did a fantastic job doing that.
A: I’m getting a better report about my development success in athletics than I get from some other sources. Those are good things. I think people want to invest in our programs. It’s always a challenge to match up the donor with the project that they feel passionate about. It’s a process and a period of time. It hasn’t, I think, been easy to raise the money for baseball that we wanted to have. I think they worked on that for a long time, and we’ll keep working it.
Q: The only time [the Gophers] won basketball championships was with coaches who cheated. … Now can you win?
A: You can absolutely win. It’s about the coach. It’s about the assistants. It’s about the structure they put in place for the players, and it’s about the other academic support that the institution provides for the athletes. We have a great structure around compliance. We have a good group of people who are helping our student-athletes, and it’s unacceptable to cheat in my view in athletics.
Q: Is there a danger of eliminating sports?
A: I talked about that with Norwood when I hired him, and I told him then and it’s true now, I haven’t tasked him with cutting nonrevenue sports. I think we can do what we need to do there as well as for our major sports. Again we’re providing great opportunities for athletes in those nonrevenue sports; for them to come and play their sport and to get a good education.
Q: What was your reaction to the beer sales at TCF Bank Stadium that showed a loss?
A: We got beat up on the bottom line there, but I think most serious business people would realize that if you’re going to start up something new like that, you’re going to have some start-up costs associated with it. We put those in our budget and we did lose a little bit of money and we invested a little bit of money. Next year we won’t have to have those start-up costs, so we’ll make a little bit of money.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org