Joel Maturi (left) announced he was stepping down as Gophers athletic director Feb. 2 during a news conference, as President Eric Kaler looked on.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Variety of voices will have their say in athletic director hunt

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER
  • Star Tribune
  • February 22, 2012 - 6:53 AM

Mia Tabberson's schedule is pretty loaded these days, what with a full load of classes as she works toward a degree in psychology, her daily workouts as part of the Gophers' nationally ranked volleyball team, and all the distractions of being a college student. But she's making time this spring to choose her school's new athletic director, too.

OK, the final decision is university President Eric Kaler's. But Tabberson, the volleyball team's starting setter and co-captain, will have a voice in the process as part of a 21-member advisory committee that Kaler appointed on Tuesday. Along with coaches, boosters, faculty members and alumni -- and senior quarterback MarQueis Gray -- the committee will make recommendations on the qualities they consider most important, create the job description, sit in on interviews with the finalists, and help the next athletic director make the transition into the job.

All this by early May, Kaler said.

"Our goal is to have an an inclusive process that helps us attract the very best candidate in the nation. And to do that we plan to engage a variety of stakeholders and diverse viewpoints," the president said of his search for a successor to Joel Maturi, who will retire July 1 after 10 years on the job.

To help identify candidates, the university has hired, at a cost of roughly $100,000, Parker Executive Search, an Atlanta firm that has assisted in dozens of similar academic searches, including the hiring 15 months ago of Gophers football coach Jerry Kill. Parker will work with a four-person search committee to narrow the list of names to a handful of semifinalists and interview them confidentially.

Kaler will have no part in formal interviews until finalists are chosen, because by law, anyone he interviews must be disclosed publicly, a fact that might otherwise scare off some high-profile job-seekers.

"If we want to attract sitting athletic directors or other qualified candidates who today have great jobs," Kaler said, "it is important to keep their candidacy confidential until they advance to finalist status."

Kaler said he knows some sitting athletic directors who might be candidates for the job, "but I don't have a person in mind that I'm absolutely certain" should get it. Asked specifically about Jim Fiore, athletic director at Stony Brook University during Kaler's time there as provost, the president said only, "Jim Fiore is a friend of mine."

Once finalists are chosen, ideally by late May, Kaler and both committees will interact with each. That's the part that especially interests Tabberson, who said "first-hand interactions definitely tell you a lot about character. ... You can learn only so much on paper. Hearing them speak, [finding out] are they approachable, are they outgoing, how do they deal with students and other people -- it's a public position, and you can't get a feeling for [how they deal with] that without meeting them."

The university expects the job to be highly sought, considering the "Big Ten market value" that Kaler said it will pay, somewhere between the $1.2 million that Gene Smith earns at Ohio State and the $350,000 salary that Nebraska pays Tom Osborne. The state of Gophers athletics is also far different now than it was when Maturi was selected to bring peace to the department a decade ago.

"We were coming off a pretty intense academic scandal, and we had for the first time in our history a merger of our men's and women's athletic departments, which many people felt, quite frankly, was a hostile takeover," said U professor Mary Jo Kane, who along with Vice President for Research R. Timothy Mulcahy will chair the selection committee. "We had an outgoing president and an interim president. ... We also have inherited an incredible foundation, with respect to facilities and student-athletes and the leadership of our former AD, which puts us in a whole new area for this search."

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