On the day the University of Minnesota approved spending an additional $40 million on its new on-campus football stadium, school President Robert Bruininks said money will not be an issue in the search for a new coach.
Despite the increased pricetag for the stadium and a $4 million combined buyout owed to ousted football coach Glen Mason and men's basketball coach Dan Monson, Bruininks said he assured Athletic Director Joel Maturi that he will commit the financial resources to hire a "first-rate" coach.
Don't count on Minnesota following the same model as Alabama, which reportedly gave Nick Saban an eight-year, $32 million contract Wednesday. But Bruininks said the school will not operate on the cheap.
"I don't want these buyouts to jeopardize our competitiveness in this search," Bruininks said.
The symmetry of the events Wednesday was unmistakable. School officials unveiled the schematic design of TCF Bank Stadium while pushing forward with the process that will identify a coach who will presumably lead the Gophers into their new home, scheduled to open in 2009.
The school is expected to finalize a contract today with the search firm that will aid the hiring process.
Maturi, who reiterated his desire to have a coach in place by the end of the month, said he expects the school and the firm will compile a list of 10 to 12 candidates who are "highly active."We don't know immediately who's interested and who's not," Maturi said. "Tony Dungy might be at the top of my list, but it's my understanding he may not be interested. You have to make sure those kinds of things are determined."
Dungy, the former Gophers quarterback and current Indianapolis Colts coach, told reporters Tuesday that he is not interested in the job. Bruininks indicated the school will still pursue Dungy, calling him a "dream candidate."I think you have to take him at his word [that he's not interested]," Bruininks said. "But we're a fairly persistent lot around here."
It's safe to assume Dungy's name was included in several of the 119 e-mails Maturi received from fans Tuesday. Maturi said he will give the search firm his own list of candidates while also relying on input from the firm, which has a more extensive coaching database.
"They will probably give me some names that they think might fit our profile, and I will also give them some names that I want to make sure they look into," he said.
Maturi said the school might put together an advisory committee that interviews the finalists but added: "We will not be parading candidates on campus."
The school is operating under a time constraint because national signing day for high school recruits is Feb. 7. Both Maturi and Bruininks, however, said they don't believe the timing will negatively affect their search.
"A number of major universities have hired their coaches in less than four weeks," Bruininks said. "You don't start out with a blank slate here. Any good athletic director has a list in his back pocket when it comes to any sport. That's no exception here."
Bruininks reiterated that he expects the new coach to sell the program publicly and do a better job of recruiting instate recruits -- two areas that were noticeably lacking under Mason. While not mentioning Mason directly, Bruininks made it clear those areas should be priorities, not a burden.
"You have to work very hard to close your borders," Bruininks said. "I don't know a leading coach in a revenue sport who succeeds without getting the best athletes to stay in the state. Now, you don't keep them all. There are a lot of reasons kids make those choices. But I think the first goal is to close your borders. Make it tough. Build a really strong relationship with the high school coaches and the youth communities of Minnesota.
"To me, a part of coaching is a responsibility to give something back to the broader community and to try and inspire young people to think about the University of Minnesota. It doesn't take a lot of time to do that. You do an occasional clinic or an occasional speech."
As he stood in front of the schematic designs of the new stadium, Bruininks, an avid horseman, spoke optimistically about the future of the football program, saying there is "absolutely no reason" why the Gophers shouldn't be able to compete for the Big Ten championship.
"My great aspiration is to put myself in the saddle and ride in the Rose Bowl parade," he said.