Hartman: With new leadership, U can aim for titles

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2012 - 6:44 AM

A new football coach, a new president and, now, a new athletic director could mold a program like Wisconsin's.

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Athletic director Joel Maturi celebrated after the Gophers beat Air Force 20-13 in the inaugural game at TCF Bank Stadium in 2009.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune file

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Joel Maturi's 10 years as University of Minnesota athletic director will end on June 30th without having won a Big Ten basketball or football championship.

Yes, the Gophers did win a hockey title and other non-revenue sport championships while Maturi was in business, but the big ones didn't happen.

And I believe that the previous U administration should get as much blame as Maturi for the failure of the major men's sports teams to win.

It's too bad Maturi won't get a chance to serve under new president Eric Kaler, who I am convinced will do things similar to what Donna Shalala did when she took over as chancellor at Wisconsin to make it more possible to win, especially in football.

I have good reason to believe that, under Kaler, Maturi would have won more games in football and basketball. Kaler was instrumental in building a successful sports program and moving up a division when he was at Stony Brook University in New York. He wasn't concerned what members of the faculty might have thought when he watched some football games from the sidelines.

Yes, a new football stadium was built during President Bob Bruininks' administration, but when it came to doing a number of things to help recruiting without cheating, it didn't happen like it does at other schools -- especially Iowa and Wisconsin, the Gophers' main competitors.

It was no accident that Wisconsin went 30 years without winning a Big Ten football championship, but won just five years after Shalala took over, and four more since then.

Maturi has a lot of confidence in Kaler.

"We haven't won here in football, a championship since '67. We haven't won a basketball championship in many years [1982], and certainly our most successful year was taken away by violations," said Maturi, referring to 1997.

"I think we have the right people in place. I'd like to think that President Kaler is supportive of those sports as well as others. I think we've made some strides with certain things, certainly the stadium is good in football. We need to find a practice facility for men's and women's basketball to conclude that. But I do think you can win at Minnesota and I don't think we're that far away."

Yes, Maturi took the heat for hiring Tim Brewster as football coach, but believe me, Bruininks' top assistant, one Kathy Brown, a U vice president, had a lot to do with that appointment and was very much involved in some decisions in the athletic department during Maturi's tenure. And former Provost Tom Sullivan wasn't the biggest sports booster, either.

Non-revenue support

Those who are not fans of Maturi will argue that he spent too much time concentrating on making sure the women's programs and the men's non-revenue sports were a success.

Maturi believed in having 25 sports and giving them a lot of attention.

A big stand for Maturi, which angered other Big Ten athletic directors, was when he continued men's gymnastics after veteran coach Fred Roethlisberger retired. Had Maturi discontinued gymnastics -- a sport that doesn't exist in high school for boys in Minnesota -- the Big Ten would have had only five schools competing in the sport and, under the conference constitution, gymnastics could have been dropped.

"I don't apologize for being supportive of a broad-based program. I don't think that support has hindered the success of our revenue sports," Maturi said. "That's where people and I may disagree. Every one of our programs could use more resources. We aren't not winning in football because we don't have the resources. Certainly we could use more. But if I pay [coach] Jerry Kill $2 million, does that make him a better coach?"

Brewster hiring

About the Brewster's hiring, Maturi said: "Quite frankly, I think if somebody hired Tim Brewster tomorrow, he'd be a step ahead and probably be more successful. He learned, and unfortunately Minnesota is not the place where you learn the job."

About Brewster's successor, Maturi said: "I think coach Kill has the ability and the charisma and the character and the being about him that will make us as good as we can be.

"I mean, we all want to win championships, that obviously is our goal and what we aspire to accomplish. I just believe that I've been around some great coaches in my life, I've been really blessed, and I've never seen athletes respond -- and respond in a positive, respectful, meaningful way to a coach -- as they have to Jerry Kill. That says a lot to me."

And Maturi is a big booster of Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith.

"I do believe that Tubby Smith is the person for us, for our future success here at the University of Minnesota," said Maturi. "I'm hopeful that [Smith's contract] extension will be realized and hopeful that he gets a break or two.

"No excuses, but if you really analyze some of the things that have happened, and in basketball they're just magnified because one person can really make a difference, as is evidenced by some of the losses that we've had in the last couple of years due to injuries, due to transfers, due to discipline actions, things that have happened that made a significant difference in our success."

Maybe the biggest accomplishment of Maturi's tenure was his role in the difficult task of merging the men's and women's athletic departments.

"I think it's the right thing. It's not my accomplishment, I think it was a decision that was made by President [Mark] Yudof and the Board of Regents -- I think it's the right decision. I think all of our athletes, all of our programs, all of our fans have benefited from a merged department."

Maturi talked about how his lifestyle will change after his retirement.

"I'm not saying the job has to be done this way, but I get up at 4:30 in the morning and I'm seldom home before 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock at night, with events it's even later than that," he said. "I'll be very honest with you, for the first time in my life I'm tired ... I'm looking into sleeping in until six and changing the lifestyle at least a little bit.

''The other thing that worried me, and I think it worried my wife especially, is that I can't go from putting in 90 hours a week to putting in nothing, so I'm tremendously thankful to President Kaler for allowing this transition to happen because that enabled me to slow down and yet still feel that I'm doing something that's meaningful."

And while other members of media hardly talked to Maturi, I enjoyed visiting with the man almost every working day in his office.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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