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Jim Souhan: Hiring right coach for two jobs is test for Gophers' AD

  • Article by: Jim Souhan
  • Star Tribune
  • January 1, 2007 - 4:39 PM

Can you celebrate the right decision if it's made at the wrong time by the wrong person, and perhaps for the wrong reason?

That's the riddle facing Gophers fans today, but it's not the most important question.

This is: Do you trust Joel Maturi -- the last of Minnesota's Mediocre Ms, now that Dan Monson and Glen Mason are gone -- to make the two most important hires that can face a major-college athletic director?

Sunday, Maturi fired football coach Mason, one year after signing him to a lucrative five-year contract. So Maturi was only 365 days off.

Maturi has demonstrated little gravitas or impact in his job.

He makes you question whether he's the right person to make such momentous decisions.

And Maturi admitted on Sunday that, had Texas Tech not tied the Insight Bowl with a 52-yard field goal, leading to the culmination of an historic collapse, he might not have fired Mason.

Ah, but when the house falls on the Wicked Witch of the East, you don't debate wind direction, you just celebrate like drunken munchkins.

Yes, Sunday was a banner day for Minnesota football. Brad Childress, a much worse coach than Mason, rallied his troops to a 41-21 loss to a Rams team that had nothing to play for, exemplifying the disdain with which many of his players regard him.

During that embarrassing end to Childress' three-month run of coaching malpractice, the U announced that it would hold a news conference concerning the future of the football program.

The good news: Joel Maturi had fired Glen Mason.

The bad news: Joel Maturi, aided by a search committee, will hire his replacement.

Oh, it's no fun picking on Gentleman Joel. He's a nice man, earnest and well-meaning. But is he ready for this?

Maturi is about to make two hires that will affect the university's profitability, popularity and stadium development. At least today he looks more capable of running this show than he did two days ago.

You can't praise Maturi for firing a guy one year after giving him a rich five-year contract, but you have to admit that the move takes guts, and the biggest question regarding Maturi around the U -- and this was coming from coaches and employees, as well as fans -- was whether he had the constitution to take on such challenges.

Sunday, the word from the U is that Maturi was forced to fire Dan Monson by university president Robert Bruininks, but that firing Mason was Maturi's call.

If so, then Maturi, despite his missteps and milquetoast manner, may be growing into his job.

Sunday, Maturi spoke of trying to "attain the championship we all aspire to," and that's the way the big shooters at the U need to think from now on.

Mason too often delighted in small victories and large excuses. He was good enough to nudge the Gophers to the brink of success without being good enough to capitalize on such position.

Whether Maturi hires his new alpha coaches from midmajors or high schools or the back rooms of major programs, he needs to choose people who believe they can succeed here, and who can make those around them believe, as well.

Mason was happy to stay one stride ahead of Jim Wacker's legacy.

We all know Minnesota basketball should thrive. This program has the venue, heritage and local talent base to occasionally contend for a Big Ten title.

U football does not enjoy all of those advantages, but we shouldn't have to hear that from the new football coach.

If Maturi does his job, the new coach will inspire as much optimism as a New Year's Eve firing of Minnesota's second-most smug and underachieving football coach.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP.

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