Reusse: Legacy of a botched hiring

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2012 - 7:14 AM

Joel Maturi's selection of Tim Brewster further crushed the football program, while Wisconsin thrived.

Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi introduced new football coach Tim Brewster, left, in January of 2007. A 15-30 record followed.

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There was a celebration at TCF Bank Stadium on Wednesday, with Gophers fans responding excitedly as Jerry Kill revealed a recruiting football class rated No. 8 in the 12-team Big Ten by ESPN, and No. 12 by Rivals.com and Scout.com.

The fans' enthusiasm was similar to four years earlier, when Tim Brewster unveiled a second recruiting class that ranked much higher than Kill's second group by analysts that work full time in assessing such things.

If you had asked the Gophers hard-cores on that February day in 2008, they would've been in agreement that athletic director Joel Maturi had belted a home run in bringing in Brewster, an aggressive salesman and recruiter, to replace Glen Mason a year earlier.

On Thursday, the day after Kill conducted his pep fest, there was another gathering at the football stadium: A news conference where university President Eric Kaler announced Maturi's contract as AD would be allowed to expire June 30.

Maturi bordered on tearful in his remarks. They could have been tears of joy, since Kaler made up a job for Maturi that allows him to collect his salary of $351,900 for an additional year.

The football crowd was celebratory over the news of Maturi's pending departure. Asked the source of their Maturi acrimony, many fans would have cited the AD's hiring of Brewster ... yeah, the same decision they were applauding on signing day four years earlier.

The difference between misguided fans and a misguided AD, of course, is fans are allowed to be naïve, while Maturi had to have the acumen to see Brewster for the shallow blowhard that he was, and if not, to watch his football program pay the consequences.

The Brewster hiring overshadows several other Maturi gaffes, the greatest of which was signing Mason to a five-year contract on Dec. 31, 2005, and agreeing with then-President Bob Bruininks to fire him exactly one year later.

That was a beautiful move, all right, but there is another complaint toward Maturi that has become a cliché of little substance:

Maturi has been devoted to non-revenue sports to a degree that has been detrimental to football and men's basketball.

You will hear the believers in this theory cite quotes from Maturi, such as that he cares as much about a Gophers tennis player as the star football player, or his frequent mentions of the Gophers' lofty ranking in the all-sports Directors' Cup standings.

You're not that obtuse, are you people?

In the politically correct world of public education, would you expect to find an AD willing to say he doesn't care equally about a woman playing No. 6 singles in tennis as he does MarQueis Gray?

As for the Directors' Cup standings, when confronted with lousy football, men's basketball and men's hockey teams as recently as 2011, Maturi had two choices for comment:

"You're right, Gophers athletics stink" or "We remain proud of the ranking for our overall program."

I'm guessing Maturi's not the only bureaucrat in college athletics who would reach for a positive spin, rather than admit to ineptitude.

The people wed to the idea that Minnesota should gouge the overall athletic program like to point to Wisconsin's decision to drop baseball two decades ago. Somehow, they relate the money saved on operating a baseball team to the Badgers' ability to build a consistently strong football program.

In actuality, the building of the Badgers can be traced to one source: the ability to identify and hire the right coach in Barry Alvarez.

In contrast, the Gophers have done that once in three decades. That coach, Lou Holtz, left after two seasons, while Alvarez (now the AD) stayed in Madison to build a legacy.

Maturi frequently says he oversees 25 sports, but that counts cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track for men and women as six, rather than two. The fact is Minnesota funds one more sport than does Wisconsin.

The Badgers don't have baseball, but they do have men's rowing and men's soccer. When you cancel out sports at the two schools, the extra sport at Minnesota is men's gymnastics.

If you think dropping men's gymnastics will make it easier for Jerry Kill to compete equally with Wisconsin in football, go for it.

Just know that it's not a question of resources for Kill; it's a question of whether the Gophers finally have found an Alvarez for the long-term.

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

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