Souhan: Maturi is part of the problem

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2006 - 9:45 AM

There must be some explanation for the U athletic director's ineptness. Could it be a shadowy Wisconsin connection that always seems to coincide with chaos?

In the past year, Gophers athletic "director" Joel Maturi has rewarded football mediocrity, sanctioned the dismantling of the women's basketball team and left CSI-quality fingerprints all over the embarrassment that the men's basketball program has become.

It seems unlikely that one man could have such a deleterious effect on one department until you delve into Maturi's past and unearth the roots of the greatest deception since CIA agent Aldrich Ames sold secrets to the Russkies.

Maturi isn't incompetent. That's just his cover.

What he is, is a mole.

More specifically, an embedded Badger.

From 1987 through 1996, Maturi worked in the Wisconsin athletic department, sometimes under the auspices of esteemed AD Pat Richter. There, Richter, making like the spymaster Karla in John le Carré's Cold War novels, hatched a plot to insinuate Maturi into the Gophers athletic department.

Richter dispatched Maturi to the University of Denver, then Miami of Ohio. Thus insulated from his Badgers roots, his cover in place, Maturi infiltrated Dinkytown.

Now the Red Menace has done his worst. He has made Gophers hoops -- that bastion of passion -- the object of apathy. He has made Williams Arena, the best sporting venue in town, a convenient place to take a nap.

Through nothing more than his indecisiveness with Monson, Maturi has set the program back at least a year.

In March, Maturi left university president Robert Bruinink's office with permission to fire Monson. He choked, leaving Monson as the worst kind of lame duck -- the kind awaiting official confirmation of his demise.

At a news conference called then so Maturi could display his support for Monson, Maturi said that, had this been the NBA, he probably would have fired Monson, offering the most damning vote of confidence in sports history.

Thus emboldened, Monson scraped together another lousy recruiting class and moped through the beginning of the season, looking like a man who just received a bill he can't pay.

Those who attended the Gophers' 90-68 loss to Clemson on Wednesday night at Williams witnessed a quaint moment evocative of the days when you had to arrive early to get a parking spot.

During the last minutes, the Minnesota student section rose and pleaded for the insertion of the tiny guard on the end of the bench.

Only this wasn't 1996, and this wasn't Hosea Crittenden ripping off his sweats. No, the small, bored crowd was trying to entertain itself by cheering for Clemson's moptop reserve, Chris Poole.

Other than that sad moment, the place was so quiet you actually could hear a single fan coaching the Gophers on how to break a full-court press.

Meet the pass! he chanted, to the tune of "Let's Go Gophers."

Monson and Maturi combined to create this mess. Maturi's willingness to fire Monson seven games into the season is an admission that he blew it last March.

Apparently unembarrassed by his mistake, Maturi demanded that the university pay Monson for an extra 30 days this season, on top of the 90 days he was already due.

Monson proved a brilliant negotiator. The terms weren't so favorable until he demonstrated Wednesday just how badly his team could play.

After watching Clemson outpace the Gophers 18-1 on the offensive boards in the first half, Maturi began writing blank checks to Monson, folding them into airplanes and floating them toward the home bench.

Monson gets a package worth more than $1.3 million to not have to coach the lousy team he put together.

Monson got a better deal than Gophers fans, who now have to trust the Red Menace to skip the occasional rowing competition and make a hire vital to the athletic department's health.

Maturi's infiltration of the Gophers athletic department makes you wonder about other Wisconsin expatriates who have hamstrung Minnesota sports. Paul Grant. Michael Bennett. Brad Childress.

Gophers hoops is not Gophers football -- a disadvantaged program with built-in excuses. Gophers hoops plays in the best joint in town, in a metro area that produces plenty of talent, in a state with no other Division I schools.

A good coach can win here.

The Red Menace can be expected to start his coaching search with Jimmy Rodgers.

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