Jim Souhan: His 'neck's on the line,' but Maturi's confident

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 17, 2007 - 8:59 PM

Not that Tim Brewster is a good salesman, but by the time his introductory news conference ended, my credit cards were maxed out, I had a new life insurance policy and my car was filled with Amway products.

While the new football coach had the room humming the Rouser, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, known until recent weeks as the man skulking in the shadows of the football program, was selling himself almost as well as Brewster.

With the coach promising to canvass the state for fan support and football recruits, and the embattled AD forthrightly defending his tenure, the day's events should have been entitled "The Importance of Being Earnest."

Maturi is unlike so many of the sports world's big cigars. Compact in stature, wearing a maroon jacket, gold dress shirt, Gophers tie and "M" button, he's only a fake fuzzy rodent head away from dressing like Goldy Gopher.

He's so worried about offending any demographic that, after referring to used car salesmen, he immediately apologized to used car salesmen everywhere. Maturi's painstakingness means he can be seen at nearly every cross-country meet and wrestling match, and when his biggest revenue sports were foundering, such attention to detail could be interpreted as fiddling while Rome burned.

If Brewster proves a good hire, though, Maturi's fastidious tendencies will have paid dividends. "I realize that my neck's on the line," Maturi said.

He admits that most people might have read Brewster's résumé and "put him in the 'no' pile, if you didn't do your homework. But I did my homework."

Does Maturi really feel his neck is on the line? "I don't think there's any question," he said. "I know what public perception is. I'm not naive. I feel confident in my own abilities, I feel good about what I've accomplished here. But at the same time, there's a long way to go, and this is the most important decision I will ever make at the University of Minnesota."

Maturi is a bit like Bud Selig -- ask him directions to a gas station, and he'll explain the origins of OPEC. He's so earnest, he tends to rise onto his tiptoes as he searches for the right phrase.

From afar, such sincerity is easily satirized. Up close, it can be endearing. "I don't mind dealing with big decisions," he said, as Brewster circled the room. "I keep telling people I love what I do, but I'm not yet having fun. I want to have some fun.

"One thing about being old is you've done something for a long time. I'm going to be 62 years old in a few weeks, and I've done this all my life, and I don't care if you go back to high school or associate AD or AD, I've hired some good people."

At the University of Denver, Maturi tried to hire a small-school basketball coach from Wisconsin but got shot down by his superiors. Today Bo Ryan coaches the second-ranked basketball team in the nation for the Wisconsin Badgers.

During this search, Maturi conducted at least 10 interviews of 2 ½ hours. "I'll be honest, 20 minutes into each of those interviews, I had a gut feeling about each and every one of them," he said. "I kept saying to myself in Tim's interview, 'Man, he's for real.' He had a passion and an energy and a conviction to him, and you had to see that today.

"The thing about Tim is every time I talked to him, he had it again. You can't be phony all the time. When I talked to people about him, they all said, 'That's who he is.'"

Maturi said he spoke with Mack Brown, Mike Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer, the Denver Broncos groundskeepers and Illinois AD Ron Guenther, who chose Ron Zook over Brewster.

"I asked Ron, why didn't you hire one of your alums, who played in a Rose Bowl for you and was a captain on your team?" Maturi said. "Is there a red flag? Mr. Guenther's answer was he had a concern that he [Brewster] had never been a head coach or a coordinator.

"That's one I overcame, unlike Ron, because I think I did even more homework."

Maturi asked candidates whether they would jump in a car and head to Chisholm to raise funds. He received a few quizzical looks. Brewster might have been the only one who volunteered to drive.

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