After revealing the search committee and outside firm that will help him fill the University of Minnesota’s vacant athletic director position, school President Eric Kaler made clear the search for the job he intends to fill by July 1 will be wide and inclusive.
Former deputy athletic director Beth Goetz has served as interim AD since Norwood Teague abruptly resigned Aug. 7 amid allegations that he had sexually harassed two members of Kaler’s senior leadership team.
“We are lucky to have a woman who’s been a good interim AD,” Kaler said. “She’s going to be a candidate for the job, but she is a not a lock for this. We’re going to search aggressively for the best person in the United States to lead Gopher athletics.”
Kaler announced Wednesday that the university will pay Turnkey Search $150,000 plus expenses and use a 16-member search committee, a group including Cambria President Marty Davis, Best Buy’s President of U.S. Retail Shari Ballard and former Gophers running back Darrell Thompson.
When describing what he’s looking for in the next AD, Kaler said, “a Minnesota connection is important and helpful, probably not essential.’’ He said he’s “open to a so-called nonconventional candidate, but they are going to need to have some pretty profound knowledge of college athletics.”
When Joel Maturi retired as AD in 2012, Kaler used a four-member search committee to help pick the replacement, none of whom is serving on this new committee.
The new committee co-chairs are Katrice Albert, the university’s vice president for equity and diversity, and Perry Leo, a professor of aerospace engineering and faculty athletics representative.
Other prominent members include Hugh McCutcheon (volleyball coach), Deborah Olson (retired CEO Nelson Laboratories), Kevin Warren (Vikings chief operating officer) and Lisa Lissimore (associate director Minnesota State High School League).
“I do want more voices at the table,” Kaler said of the larger search committee. “And I do want the constituents that are represented on this committee to weigh in.”
For its 2012 AD search, the university used Parker Executive Search, which received $112,539 for its assistance in finding Teague. This drew increased scrutiny when a gender discrimination complaint against Teague at Virginia Commonwealth surfaced only after his resignation at Minnesota.
The New Jersey-based Turnkey recently helped in the AD searches at Michigan and Georgetown. Kaler noted that schools typically have paid search firms one-third of a first-year AD’s salary plus expenses. According to the university, the current median salary for a Big Ten AD is $750,000.
“A firm like Turnkey allows us to maintain the sort of confidentiality needed to recruit candidates who are already employed in top athletics programs,” Kaler said. “As you can understand, our best candidates will not want their current employer to know if they’re interested in our job.”
Kaler said the committee will finalize the job description, conduct interviews and “recommend finalists to me for on-campus interviews.”
He made it clear that all 16 members “will be involved in the interview process,” though he noted, “It’s ultimately my decision.”
Could this AD hiring lead to some immediate coaching changes? Earlier this month, on his first day on the job, new Illinois AD Josh Whitman fired football coach Bill Cubit, replacing him with former NFL coach Lovie Smith.
“I think the AD wants to come in eyes wide open,” Kaler said. “… It would be highly unlikely that we’d make a high-level [coaching] change in the short term, given where we are now, but again that would be a conversation with the AD.”
Kaler went on to say: “We certainly have had our challenges in football because of the health of [former coach Jerry Kill]. I think we’ve made a very good transition to Tracy Claeys. I believe he will do a wonderful job on our football team.
“And our men’s basketball team has had a pretty terrible year … but I think they will be able to recover. I think Richard Pitino has great potential, and he shows a high degree of self-awareness about who he is and where he is and what needs to happen next. He’s got a great recruiting class coming.”
Kaler acknowledged this already has been a long, slow process.
“We are being very deliberate about this, that’s for sure,” he said. “Do I want to make a mistake on this? No.”