New Gophers AD Teague's mandate: to sell hope

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2012 - 12:09 PM

The Virginia Commonwealth AD finds Gophers fans hungry for winning programs.

He doesn't have the splashy name. And his experience with a football program? That's six years in the past. But Norwood Teague believes he is exactly what the University of Minnesota needs right now.

At a news conference to introduce Teague as the program's new athletic director -- pending approval by the Board of Regents -- the Virginia Commonwealth AD, who has been wooed by several other major programs recently, said Monday he went for the job at Minnesota partly because of instinct and said he sees himself as a logical answer to some of the school's recent athletic struggles.

"Sometimes you just have a gut feel," the 46-year-old North Carolina native said. "And I've got to be honest with you, it was that."

Which is why, Teague said, he became intrigued in the first place. A year earlier, he had turned down an offer from Miami (Fla.). He was contacted for the position at North Carolina, his alma mater, but was satisfied at VCU, where he had overseen six years of unprecedented success -- athletically, financially and academically.

Then he ran into Dan Parker -- the president of the search firm Minnesota used to find candidates -- and was persuaded to take a look at Minnesota.

"He took me out back and said, 'You need to look at this job,' " Teague said. "I said, 'Tell me why.' And he told me, 'It fits you perfect. They need what you can give. And even though you're riding high at VCU ... you need to look at this job because it fits what you can give.'"

What he can give, he believes, is a new, effective brand of fundraising, something Minnesota sorely needs. With both the football team and the men's basketball team stalling in recent years, ticket sales have floundered, and in 2011 average attendance at TCF Bank Stadium hit a low for the three years the team has been in the new stadium. Coaches have been vocal about needs for facilities in order to compete in the Big Ten. And donors -- corporate and individual -- haven't exactly been knocking down doors to fill in the gaps.

But healing those sorts of wounds is Teague's specialty, and those skills are the impetus behind his five-year contract, with a base salary of $400,000 per year.

Under Teague's six-year guidance, VCU's athletic fund increased 119 percent. A basketball practice facility was approved and funded. The men's basketball team reached its first-ever Final Four, while the women's team reached the NCAA tournament for the first time. Attendance reached record highs. Season ticket holders doubled.

Those enticements, for Minnesota, seem to far outweigh the fact that one of the Gophers biggest priorities is resurrecting a limping football program, and Teague, who has 20 years of experience working in collegiate athletics, most recently comes from a school that did not even have a football or hockey program.

Both Teague and Minnesota President Eric Kaler downplayed the recent lack of experience Monday, with Kaler noting, "Football is not new to Norwood."

"Norwood is the real deal," Kaler said. "I am extremely confident that he is fully equipped and has the capacity, and then some, to manage our entire athletics program."

Teague, who is single, made the journey to Minneapolis on his own over Easter weekend, and spent three days "wandering around," checking out the campus, chatting up locals in bars and restaurants and trying to get a feel for the city, the fans and their feelings on what the program needs.

"I found there's an impatience from the fan base," Teague said. "I found there's a lot of interest, but there's impatience. People really want a winner and that was really a common theme.

"People want hope. If you're not winning, they need to know that you've got the right guy in place and there's hope down the road. If you can sell hope, you can sell just about anything."

Teague doesn't start until July 1, but a priority list is already forming: listening candidly to everyone on the staff describe the state of the department, laying down structure for major fundraising and starting a master facility plan.

The new administration phase has yet to begin, but the hope, it seems, already is spreading across the program.

"That's his strength, his fundraising, and we need a big emphasis on that right now," men's basketball coach Tubby Smith said. "I think he's a guy that can sell that dream. He's done it before."

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