You don't hear many mea culpas by public figures these days, so it was mildly surprising and quite refreshing to hear Joel Maturi take the blame for the disappointment by a significant segment of Gopher fans over the choice of Jerry Kill.
"It's an honest reaction, and I created it," Maturi said Monday. "I regretted that almost immediately."
"That" is his much-repeated suggestion that a coach with the stature of Tubby Smith would be hired by the Gophers, words that set a standard that only a handful of coaches -- none of them interested in salvaging a program that faces a long and steep climb to Big Ten relevance, much less title contention -- could possibly meet.
With Maturi's dream scenario fueling their ambition, Gopher fans identified a roster of perfect-world favorites almost immediately upon Tim Brewster's firing Oct. 17. Jim Harbaugh, USC-killer? Gary Patterson, BCS-buster? Chris Petersen and his 60-5 career record?
Child, please. The Vikings might not have the firepower to attract a coaching superhero of that ilk.
"I should have known better," Maturi said, and the rampant -- though ebbing -- skepticism about Kill is part of the result.
But Maturi is confident that the new coach will overcome his accidental sabotage, just by being himself.
"It's not like he's an instant 'wow.' He doesn't have a presence about him," Maturi said. "But he grows on you. He's just a wonderful human being, and a darned good coach. The more our fans are around him, the more they're going to get excited about him and our team."
His players love him, and they succeed on the field and in the classroom. His team's fans love him; Kill phoned each of Northern Illinois' season-ticket holders last winter to encourage them to renew. And "his values reflect those important to Minnesota," Maturi said. "He cares about people, and they care about him, as evidenced by the fact that most of his coaches have been with him for several years."
Still, it will take awhile for many fans, particularly those who wanted controversial ex-Texas Tech coach Mike Leach's pursuit of the job to succeed, to get behind Kill. The university plans to "do some work on" ticket sales, university president Robert Bruininks said, but he believes enthusiasm will grow quickly.
"I don't think [the doubters] are at all representative of the Gopher fan base," Bruininks said. "We've hired a very good coach, and I believe our fans will be proud of the job he does."
He did lose a few friends in DeKalb, Ill., this weekend, though, by walking away from Northern Illinois before the Huskies' bowl game. "Right now, it's tough for me coming here," Kill said. "This is great today, but [I'm] leaving a bunch of kids that are upset with me."
A column in the NIU student newspaper Northern Star was even more blunt: "In an environment where Kill had never been anything but cooperative and happy to accommodate the media, his exit was the polar opposite of his arrival," Chris Dertz wrote. "It was a classless gesture that leaves a terrible taste in the NIU community's mouth."
He'll have some relationships to mend there, once he settles in. First comes his relationship with Minnesotans, and he knows what that will take.
"The way you prove to people you're worthy of anything is [through] results and work ethic. They see you work and see improvement, and people understand that," Kill said. "I just think it's perfect timing for a coach like myself to come into this job with a new stadium, with people that are passionate."
For the Gophers, the price was right, too. Dave Mona, who helped Maturi conduct the search, said on WCCO Radio that the university had budgeted roughly $2.5 million for a prominent head coach, and was willing to stretch to close to $3 million for a truly elite hire.
Instead, by reaching into the Mid-America Conference -- the same coaching cradle that produced Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Urban Meyer -- Minnesota is spending barely more than the $1 million that Tim Brewster was paid, more than only Indiana and Northwestern. Kill will earn $5.5 million over five seasons.