Scoggins: Gophers turning to Teague not exactly a Hail Mary

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2012 - 2:44 PM

While his previous employer did not have a football program, to say he doesn't have a prayer of being successful is a stretch.

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Norwood Teague was introduced as the next director of athletics at the University of Minnesota at a news conference in the football locker room Monday afternoon in TCF Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. Teague previously held the same postition at Virginia Commonwealth University. Gopher head football coach Jerry Kill talked with reporters in the football locker room after Norwood Teague was introduced as the University's new director of athletics.

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University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler couldn't conclude his opening remarks at the introductory news conference for new athletic director Norwood Teague without addressing the "football issue."

A day earlier, Mary Jo Kane, co-chair of the university's search committee that recommended Teague, acknowledged his résumé includes a "gap in his profile."

Both presumably were pre-emptive moves designed to ease fan anxiety and concerns -- and perhaps even outrage -- over the fact Teague ran an athletic department the past six years that does not field a football team. Naturally, that set off alarm bells and general overreaction, to the degree that some fans probably expected Teague to begin his news conference inside the Gophers football locker room by asking where the free-throw line is.

Alas, he actually looked pretty comfortable in that setting.

"Football is not new to Norwood," Kaler said.

Let's be clear: There's nothing wrong with a little skepticism, and the lack of football administration on Teague's résumé cannot be ignored. College football is too big and too important to just completely dismiss it. And given the program's long, painful history of losing, Gophers fans probably had their hopes set on a "football guy" stepping in to replace Joel Maturi.

A track record in anything is ideal, but the absence of one doesn't automatically disqualify someone from implementing a vision and game plan that gets desired results. Doesn't Teague at least deserve a chance to prove that?

Teague has worked in college athletics for more than two decades, including stints at North Carolina, Arizona State and Virginia. Do you honestly believe he doesn't understand the importance of college football to the overall viability of an athletic department?

"When you work in a school or institution that has football at the level of Big Ten and ACC, you're going to spend more time at that than anything else," he said.

The Gophers don't need another football coach or cheerleader or micro-manager. They need Teague to raise money and bring new energy to the department. They need a new strategic plan for fundraising and some fresh ideas that generate additional revenue sources. That's supposedly Teague's strength, or as he described it, his "wheelhouse."

Gophers fans already are salivating over Teague's close ties and friendship with VCU basketball Shaka Smart. Instead, they should focus on Teague's business smarts, because that's what this department needs right now.

Teague walks into the job with several big-ticket items to resolve. Tubby Smith has only two seasons remaining on his contract and an extension is in negotiation. The basketball team needs a practice facility and Williams Arena isn't getting any younger. A new baseball stadium is in the works and the track needs overhauling. That's a hefty agenda that requires serious cash flow.

Successful revenue sports represent the perfect conduit for increased financial donations, particularly football. Nothing tugs at the purse strings quite like winning.

The opinion here remains that Jerry Kill knows what it takes to build a football program and is the right man for this job. Teague's task is to collaborate with Kill in developing a strategy to ensure that happens. Part of that involves staying competitive in the arms race, which takes money and a willingness to think big.

A strong leader is able to project an overall vision and tone. A strong leader is able to attract and retain quality coaches and allocate resources in the appropriate places in order to elevate a program's profile. A strong leader listens to coaches, determines what is feasible and then finds a way to make it work.

That doesn't necessarily require a prescribed background to accomplish. Just boldness and the ability to prioritize.

Teague reclined in a chair inside Kill's office at TCF Bank Stadium after his news conference and insisted he's not bothered by questions about his football pedigree. He said he spent every fall Saturday the past six years attending college football games, just not on his campus.

"I went somewhere where I knew somebody, networked, saw coaches and people in the locker room," he said. "It's a great thing that Dr. Kaler realizes how important [football] is. That's the first step."

Teague understands that too. That didn't get lost in the gap on his résumé.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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