Among the nine leading candidates identified by sources to be the next University of Minnesota athletic director are two deputy ADs in the Big Ten, a stock market insider, the Northern Illinois AD and Gophers interim Beth Goetz.
The university's emerging list of top candidates is wide-ranging and includes executives from the Rocky Mountains to Wall Street, according to the 14 people who spoke with the Star Tribune on the condition of anonymity so they could continue to stay close to the secretive search. Each of the nine has a previous tie to Minnesota or the Upper Midwest.
Deputy ADs Gene Taylor from Iowa and Phil Esten from Penn State, as well as Goetz, are expected to get formal interviews with the university's search committee in coming weeks. Two of the outside names repeated most by sources are Northern Illinois AD Sean Frazier and Pete Najarian, the options trader and former Gophers football captain.
Friday is the application deadline, and Turnkey Search, a private search firm based in New Jersey, has been screening prospective candidates for university President Eric Kaler and the school's 16-member search committee. Formal interviews are expected to take place the first two weeks of May.
Kaler and Turnkey President Len Perna declined to comment to the Star Tribune in recent days, and members of the search committee signed a confidentiality agreement. Prospective candidates also have been discouraged from talking publicly about the process.
None of the 14 sources could confirm whether there were more than nine people in an advanced stage of the search process, but based on those interviews, here is an alphabetical list of candidates who have been contacted and screened for the job by Turnkey:
Phil Esten, Penn State deputy AD: Esten, 43, spent six years as associate AD at Minnesota before becoming deputy AD at California-Berkley. In 2014, he took the deputy job at Penn State under Sandy Barbour, who'd also hired him at Cal. Esten played a key role in the fundraising for TCF Bank Stadium and later worked as president and CEO of the university's alumni association. The La Crosse, Wis., native got his doctorate in kinesiology from Minnesota.
Sean Frazier, Northern Illinois AD: Frazier is one of the candidates Turnkey has pursued most aggressively, according to sources. He was a finalist for the Rutgers AD position before taking the Northern Illinois job and has since drawn interest for AD posts at Pittsburgh and Illinois. The Long Island, N.Y., native and former Alabama football player was the deputy AD under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin and served as the chair of the NCAA men's hockey committee in 2011. Frazier, 47, also served as the AD at Manhattanville, Merrimack and Clarkson.
Beth Goetz, Gophers interim AD: Some still view Goetz as the front-runner. She has drawn praise from inside the university since becoming interim AD when Norwood Teague resigned last August. A St. Louis native who played soccer at Clemson, Goetz, 41, began her career as a soccer coach and administrator at Missouri-St. Louis. She worked as a senior woman administrator at Butler before coming to Minnesota as deputy AD. One of her top references is Brad Stevens, who coached basketball at Butler before taking over the Boston Celtics.
David Gutzke, U.S. Bank senior VP: Gutzke, 58, comes heavily recommended from top executives at U.S. Bank. The Waverly, Minn., native was an honorable mention All-America safety at Princeton, and after getting cut from the Vikings, he got his MBA from St. Thomas. He has since built a career in wealth management. At U.S. Bank, he is the Senior VP/Managing Director of the Private Client Reserve, advising Minnesota business owners and executives along with their families.
Pete Najarian, CNBC stock analyst: Najarian, 52, was a three-time second-team All-Big Ten linebacker for the Gophers (1983-85) and graduated cum laude with a degree in genetic engineering. He played three seasons in the NFL and then became an options trader on Wall Street. In 2005, he and his brother, Jon, co-founded OptionMonster. He has a national profile as an analyst for CNBC and close ties to the Twin Cities business community.
Bill Robertson, WCHA commissioner: Robertson, 55, is a Cretin-Derham Hall and Cal State-Fullerton grad who worked in communications for the Timberwolves, Anaheim Ducks and Anaheim Angels before a 13-year stretch as vice president for the Wild. He became WCHA commissioner in 2014. He has strong Minnesota ties and a contact list filled with connections from the NCAA, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.
Bob Stein, Minneapolis attorney: Stein, 68, was a two-time All-America defensive end for the Gophers and spent seven years in the NFL. After earning his law degree, he worked as an NFL agent and was CEO of the Timberwolves (and Target Center) for eight years, at that team's inception. Many of Stein's hires, including Tim Leiweke (AEG, Toronto Maple Leafs) and Ron Minegar (Arizona Cardinals), Brenda Tinnen (Sprint Center, Kansas City) went on to highly successful careers themselves.
Gene Taylor, Iowa deputy AD: Taylor spent 13 years as North Dakota State's AD, leading the transition from Division II to Division I, where almost every sport there has succeeded, with the exception of women's basketball. The football team has won five consecutive Football Championship Subdivision titles. Taylor, 58, who hails from Safford, Ariz., also worked for the Naval Academy. He has made no secret that his goal is to become a Power Five conference AD.
Craig Thompson, Mountain West commissioner: Thompson remains a possibility for the Minnesota AD job, though it's believed he'd be hesitant to go through a drawn out search process, as it could compromise his current position. Thompson, 59, graduated from Minnesota with a degree in journalism and went into public relations, working for Kansas State, the Kansas City Kings and the Metro Conference before becoming commissioner of the American South Conference in 1987. He became commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference in 1991 and has been commissioner of the Mountain West since its founding in 1998.
Not on this list: Some sources mentioned and endorsed names such as Miami (Fla.) AD Blake James, Miami (Ohio) AD David Sayler and Toledo AD Mike O'Brien, but none of these sources could confirm that these three had moved beyond initial contact with Turnkey. Additionally, sources confirmed former Gophers football coach Glen Mason is not pursuing the job.