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New Gophers AD Norwood Teague

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Scoggins: Teague needs to show he can do more than raise funds

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS
  • Star Tribune
  • October 23, 2012 - 8:45 AM

The University of Minnesota hired Norwood Teague to run its athletic department largely on his reputation as a fundraising whiz.

That mission remains a fundamental component of his overall plan, but Teague has discovered that sitting in that chair at Minnesota also requires him to spend an undesirable amount of time and energy dealing with brush fires and mini-crises. Every athletic director in America encounters drama of various degrees, but the Gophers rarely seem to enjoy smooth sailing for any extended period of time.

It's always something over there in Dinkytown.

In the past two weeks alone, news of basketball star Trevor Mbakwe's DWI arrest surfaced; football coach Jerry Kill was hospitalized because of a postgame seizure; Kill and Teague came under heavy criticism over their decision to spend $800,000 to cancel the North Carolina home-and-home series; and Tubby Smith's son and assistant basketball coach, Saul, was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

Welcome to town, Norwood.

"We'll have times like this," Teague said Monday. "It's not something that you certainly want to happen. But you're going to have points where, in a department, things are not going to go your way."

Teague's tenure ultimately will be judged by how well the athletic department prospers under his guidance, specifically in football, basketball and men's hockey. He's charged with raising enough capital to finance facilities projects in order to elevate the Gophers to the level of their Big Ten counterparts. As it is, the school is lagging on that front.

But Teague also will be forced to deal with a lot of, well, stuff under a big-city microscope. For whatever reason, the Gophers can't seem to get out of their own way sometimes and make life unnecessarily hard on themselves. Teague's record on NCAA compliance and the manner in which he handles adverse situations cut to the heart of his leadership role in setting a tone for the entire department.

"I don't look at it as a test for me as far as leadership because my values will not change," he said.

The recent events have served as a trial by fire for his managerial style and probably provided him some valuable lessons. The Gophers botched the handling of Mbakwe's arrest in July by trying to hide it in the hope that it never became public. The school is under no obligation to release negative information, of course, but the Gophers are remarkably naive if they believe it was purely coincidence that news of Mbakwe's arrest surfaced hours before the team's media day news conference. So instead of focusing on the optimistic outlook for this season, Tubby spent half of his media session talking about Mbakwe's arrest and punishment.

Teague and Kill grossly underestimated the public relations backlash that accompanied the North Carolina debacle. The financial penalty coupled with the perception of ducking North Carolina -- a team that lost to Duke on Saturday, mind you -- sent fans over the edge and resulted in an avalanche of negative feedback that put Kill on the defensive about his philosophical approach and Teague for going along with it.

Teague took swift, appropriate action against Saul Smith by placing him on indefinite unpaid administrative leave. Smith's alleged actions represented a serious lack of judgment, but the timing of his arrest pushed the matter into a realm of stupidity. His arrest happened roughly 14 hours after Mbakwe pleaded for leniency from a Miami judge in his probation violation hearing by admitting that he's an alcoholic and dealing with depression. Smith's behavior put Teague in an uncomfortable position of having to determine the proper punishment for the coach's son on the heels of a stressful week.

"We want a culture of behavior, a culture of being model citizens," Teague said. "We're a front porch to the university in a lot of different ways. We just can't have behavior like that. It's just not good for anyone. It's embarrassing, and I won't tolerate it."

This is a side of Teague we haven't seen in his short time on the job. Anyone who has watched him work a room filled with boosters can see he's comfortable in that setting. Fundraising clearly comes naturally to him. But sometimes he must deal with a mess, too.

Teague found himself knee-deep in it last week. It probably won't be the last time.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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