Jim Souhan: If we want a Big Ten AD, let's search, woo and pay

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2012 - 7:37 AM

There's no need to bring in anyone with local connections.

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Joel Maturi

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With Joel Maturi leaving the position of athletic director, Gophers fans are casting a butterfly net for his replacement.

Some want a former Gophers player to take the job. Some want a former Gophers coach, or at least a current or former Twin Cities resident. Some are willing to travel to the far reaches of the western suburbs in search of the perfect candidate.

For many fans and alumni, the process of finding someone to run a potentially lucrative Big Ten athletic department that must compete with Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska for prizes worth millions, a job that combines aggressive fundraising and visionary leadership, is a bit like the process by which you choose your seat at the Thanksgiving table.

Gophers fans seek familiarity. I've found the perfect candidate for them.

You know him. He's experienced. He wears maroon everywhere he goes. He's dedicated and hard-working. He cares deeply about the university. He's from Minnesota, and he would never leave us for another school.

Sound perfect?

His name is Joel Maturi.

If local roots are what you crave, Maturi should keep the job. If you want Minnesota to start acting like an ambitious Big Ten athletic department, you should ask university President Eric Kaler to cast a wide net, one that could snag Moby Dick and Shamu while the shrimp and mollusks slip through the seine.

This is no time to think small, or local. This is no time for provincialism, and yet the names you hear in connection with the athletic director job all seem to have connections to Minnesota, if not actual homes here.

Glen Mason? Well, you wouldn't have to pay moving expenses.

Tony Dungy? Just how deluded do you have to be to think that someone who hasn't worked here in 17 years, who loves living in Tampa, who attained his greatest professional achievement in Indianapolis, and who gets paid vast sums of money to work a few dozen days a year by NBC is dying to move back to the tundra to work 4,000 hours a year while taking a pay cut?

Jeff Diamond? The former Vikings executive is smart and competent, but so are a hundred other qualified candidates.

These words have never before appeared in modern America, but the key to success is imitating the Timberwolves.

When the Wolves needed a coach who could transform their franchise last year, they identified the best available candidate, then aggressively pursued and wooed him, and paid him big money. It was Wolves President David Kahn's finest hour.

Rick Adelman has no connection to Minnesota. His hiring was not the result of sentiment. Adelman was hired because he was the best candidate, and he's made the Wolves the most interesting and entertaining team in town.

If Kaler will enter this process with no preconceived notions and expand the candidate list beyond those who have moth-eaten Gophers letter jackets stuffed in their closets, he has a chance to transform the athletic department in the same way Adelman transformed the Wolves.

The right candidate might be running a midmajor in Indiana. He might be an assistant AD in the Southeastern Conference. He might be a CEO who knows how to run a business and can hire an assistant AD to help him navigate the sports world. Somewhere out there is a great candidate who just might daydream about a close personal relationship with Goldy Gopher.

Sentimentality is blinding. Big Ten history proves that.

Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler created the greatest rivalry in conference history.

Hayes played football at Denison University in Ohio and coached at Denison and Miami (Ohio) University. He was never affiliated with Ohio State until he was hired to become the Buckeyes' head football coach.

Schembechler would make Michigan football great, would create the now-popular notion that a "Michigan Man'' must run the program.

Schembechler, the seminal Michigan Man, played at Miami and coached under Hayes at Ohio State. Michigan Man was an Ohio guy, until he wasn't.

So think big, Minnesota. You might even want to consider paying moving expenses.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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