Chip Scoggins: Undo bad fit, and bid farewell to Maturi

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 21, 2011 - 10:57 PM

Failures in football -- the university's most visible sport -- cry out for new, big-picture Gophers leadership.

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The general sense around campus is that Joel Maturi won't return to the Gophers as athletic director after this school year ends.

Joel Maturi said this week that he doesn't know whether he will return next year as Gophers athletic director. New University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler still has not announced whether he will offer Maturi an extension after taking time to evaluate him.

Though nothing is official, the general sense around campus is that Maturi's 10-year tenure will end with a mutual parting of ways when his contract expires at the end of the current school year.

Maturi is 66 and a grandfather and probably can live without the angry e-mails he receives after every disheartening loss by the football team. The atmosphere around the football program and Maturi is so toxic that extending his contract would cause an uproar among fans and lead to more apathy than already exists.

It seems like a logical decision for both sides. The time is right for change.

More than anything, the Gophers need a big-picture CEO type to guide the athletic department because college sports have become a bottom-line enterprise, and the arms race isn't slowing down. They need someone who's determined to change the culture inside the department and set a different tone.

It's OK to admit that not all sports are equal. Maturi's willingness to ride the bus with the volleyball team is admirable and shows he values a broad-based program. But it also has fueled the perception -- whether true or not -- that he doesn't have his priorities in order, that he cares more about where his department finishes in the Director's Cup standings than he does fielding a first-rate football program. Eventually, perception becomes reality.

That's not to say Maturi always cuts corners with his revenue sports, because that's not true. But he faces a crisis of confidence among fans and alumni because of the intense struggles of his high-profile programs.

That statement, however, is not our attempt to grab a pitchfork and join the anti-Maturi crowd that views his tenure as a blanket failure.

Joel Maturi is a good man who operates by the rules, is honest to a fault and cares deeply about his department and athletes. And he has handled himself with class in the face of fan vitriol in recent years.

Contrary to public perception, Maturi's tenure also includes many positives. He successfully merged the two departments, straightened out the finances, improved graduation rates and worked tirelessly to make TCF Bank Stadium a reality. We shouldn't forget the mess he inherited after the academic scandal or how hard he's worked to move his department forward.

But he's also swung and missed on some big-ticket items, none bigger than his decision to hire Tim Brewster as the replacement for the fired Glen Mason, a move that has left the program in shambles. It's obvious now it will take the Gophers years to recover from that decision.

Coach Jerry Kill said last week that it might take four recruiting classes to get a true evaluation of his program and that his staff monitors 63 players to make sure they're going to class. That's beyond embarrassing.

The Gophers might be the worst football team in Division I-A. So far, we've witnessed them lose at home to New Mexico State and North Dakota State and get bulldozed on the road by Michigan and Purdue, the two Big Ten losses by a combined score of 103-17.

The luster of a new stadium has worn off, and they can't fill its 50,000 seats without assistance from the other team. (That won't be easy next season. either, with a home schedule that includes New Hampshire, Western Michigan, Syracuse, Northwestern and Purdue.)

The product on the field appears to be getting worse and, frankly, is hard to watch. It's a sad state of affairs that demands accountability.

You can blame the dire situation on Brewster, the talent on the roster and maybe even Kill and his staff to a lesser degree. But that glosses over the root of the problem, which is Maturi's colossal mistake in hiring Brewster.

I still maintain the decision to fire Mason came from above Maturi's office, an edict delivered from Morrill Hall. It's no secret that Mason rubbed top university officials the wrong way with his curt attitude, pull-no-punches public relations and constant harping on a lack of commitment toward football.

Essentially, they fired Mason because they didn't like him, not because of his coaching acumen. Fine, but his replacement needed to be as competent or better. Instead, Maturi took a huge leap of faith in hiring a guy who never had been a head coach or coordinator above the high school level.

Maturi interviewed several candidates who were better prepared for the job, including Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin and Craig Bohl. But he fell in love with Brewster's sales pitch.

"I realize that my neck's on the line," Maturi said the day of Brewster's introductory news conference.

He also acknowledged that "this is the most important decision I will ever make at the University of Minnesota."

And now here they are.

Anyone who's watched the conference realignment and expansion story unfold the past year understands that football drives college athletics. The sport never has been bigger, more popular or more lucrative. College football is the window to a university.

Thus, Gophers officials should stop and ask themselves one question:

How's the view right now?

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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