U got no big name, nor an appealing consolation prize

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 5, 2010 - 11:48 PM

There's reason to suspect Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi not only failed to make a hire that satisfied fans, but it might have been a choice that failed to satisfy him.

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Joel Maturi, seen not long ago relieving Tim Brewster of his duties as Gophers football coach, engineered the hiring of Jerry Kill amid rumors and evidence that he was being turned down by or was choosing to reject more prominent coaches.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune file

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There are several questions to be asked of the M&M boys, Joel Maturi and Dave Mona, but here's the one that most intrigues a beat-up old sportswriter:

If you were going to the Mid-American Conference to find a new football coach for the Gophers, why didn't you hire the guy who won the MAC title game on Friday night, rather than the loser?

Miami (Ohio) was a 17 1/2-point underdog to Northern Illinois in Ford Field. Final: Miami 26, NIU 21.

And what did our traveling tandem do after that result came in? They hired Jerry Kill, 49, the coach who lost as a large favorite, rather than Mike Haywood, 46, a coach responsible for a rapid turnaround of downtrodden Miami.

There have been rumors flying for a month as the M&M boys made their surreptitious journeys about the continent. For much of Saturday, the speculation centered on UConn's Randy Edsall, a coach involved in a game at South Florida that would advance his Huskies -- no matter how unworthy -- to a BCS bowl game.

You could read grousing from Gophers fans that they were holding out for a coach with a greater résumé (particularly as a recruiter) than Edsall. And those same folks were overjoyed later Saturday when the rumor spread that Maturi and friend might be ready to pull off a gigantic coup and hire Boise State's Chris Petersen.

"Dang," Gopher Nation exclaimed. "That guy from Boise comes here, we'll paint the turf at TCF Bank Stadium blue for him."

That rumor started to die by Sunday, and the tune had changed on Edsall: "We'll take you, Randy. We'd love to have you."

As it turned out, Petersen and Edsall were pipe dreams, as were Dan Mullen, Al Golden, Brady Hoke, Troy Calhoun, Ken Niumatalolo, Marc Trestman and even Larry Fedora.

The M&M boys also couldn't get coaches who might want back into the profession under the right circumstances (Phil Fulmer and Mike Bellotti), or a coach put on the street last month (Randy Shannon), or the coach who won the MAC title (Haywood).

About the time Adrian Peterson was running for his first touchdown Sunday under the Teflon sky, it was becoming clear that the Gophers' choice came down to Kill or Paul Chryst, Wisconsin's offensive coordinator.

There's reason to suspect that Maturi not only failed to make a hire that satisfied fans, but that it might have been a choice that failed to satisfy him.

Maturi limited himself at the start of the search by stating that he wanted a man with head coaching experience in Division I-A. That eliminated Chryst. And if The Director could have talked his way out of that one, he still feared the rips that he would receive for hiring the son of a longtime friend.

Too bad the Gophers have such a hypersensitive athletic director, since if Kill and Chryst were the final options, Maturi made the wrong choice.

After the initial reaction, Chryst would have been the easier sell, as the man in charge of a Wisconsin offense that has turned power running into a tremendous trademark.

What we will hear about Kill is that he has won everywhere: Saginaw Valley State, and then Emporia State, and then Southern Illinois in Division I-AA, and for three seasons at Northern Illinois in the mighty MAC.

Maturi's pitch Monday will be that Kill made a rapid turnaround at SIU, and then took a Northern Illinois program supposedly on the downslide and put up a 23-16 record (18-6 in the MAC) in three seasons.

Here's what dazzles about The Director's latest hire:

Maturi came to Minnesota in July 2002 and inherited Glen Mason as his football coach.

Mason had done his MAC turnaround at Kent State in 1986-87. The fact he was able to go 12-10 at a place with such a woeful tradition allowed him to get the Kansas job in 1988.

The Jayhawks were awful. It took three seasons, and then Mason had four winning seasons from 1991 through 1995, including 10-2 in that '95 season. He was hired by Georgia -- Georgia! -- and then reneged for personal reasons.

The Kansas fans turned on him, he spent one more unhappy season there, and then was hired by the Gophers in 1996. Mason went 25-13 in Maturi's first three years (2002-04) on the scene, with bowl victories over Arkansas, Oregon and Alabama.

Two years later, Maturi fired Mason, hired a world-class blowhard, and now this:

Less than four years after booting Mason, a builder of programs at the BCS level, and with a new on-campus stadium as an item to attract candidates, Maturi brings in a coach from the MAC ... fresh off the momentum of losing as a 17 1/2-point favorite.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon to 4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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