Teague must sell hope, not snake oil

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 3, 2012 - 9:45 PM

A tall order for the new U AD: turning football and basketball profitable before the fans' patience wanes.

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New Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Let's ignore for the moment that Norwood Teague left a school without a football program to help a school with only a rumor of one, and that his name is an anagram for "We (U) Are Not Good."

Let's ignore decades of mediocrity in football and basketball and presume that Teague has a chance to succeed as the University of Minnesota's new athletic director.

Even if you believe Minnesota should not be a graveyard for coaching careers and a punching bag for the rest of the Big Ten, Teague is going to need some help. Or at least some advice.

Here it is, Mr. T:

• Scrub pessimism from the office walls.

Fine anyone on your staff who whines, or even shrugs.

The U is an excellent school in the heart of one of the country's best metro areas. The U boasts a beautiful new football stadium and a basketball arena that, until Tubby Smith arrived, was considered an advantage, not an albatross.

If you can persuade excellent high school students to spend tens of thousands of dollars to attend the U, you can persuade elite high school athletes to accept a scholarship there. To change the mentality at the U, you're going to have to eradicate pessimism. That will not be easy.

• Hire an assistant to worry about nonrevenue sports.

Your job is not to attend cross-country meets or build a boat house. Your job is to create a financial tide that raises all ships.

Major-college athletics is big business, and it is the rare case of trickle-down economics actually working. If you win in football and basketball, the minor sports will be well-funded. If you lose in football and basketball, you will wind up cutting minor sports.

Plus, the minor sports don't need much help. You've got an excellent bunch of coaches, from baseball's John Anderson to wrestling's J Robinson to volleyball's Hugh McCutcheon. They'll be fine if you aren't sitting in the stands. You've got more important things to do, like raising money, and raising money.

• Take a hard look at Tubby Smith.

You face a tough decision. Smith has failed to elevate the basketball program, but he has an intriguing group of players returning next season.

Smith's Big Ten record is 38-52. While rumors persist that Smith will soon receive an extension, there's no reason to give a failing coach with two years remaining on his deal any more guaranteed money. Make him earn it, and if he doesn't, move on. You hired Shaka Smart. Don't be afraid to hire another promising young coach.

• Remove the excuses.

Build Smith a practice facility. Your expertise is fundraising, and this is your chance to show off.

Give Smith and football coach Jerry Kill whatever they ask for in terms of facilities and support. You need to remove any potential excuses. Building a practice facility would advertise to high school recruits and future coaching hires that the U is ready to operate in the big time.

• Excuse Eric Kaler from the table.

Kaler might be a good university president, but he's not an athletic director and shouldn't pretend to be one. His decision to extend Kill's contract when Kill had won one game at the U was silly. You, Mr. Teague, will be judged on the record of your revenue teams, so take charge of the decision-making process, and let Kaler be a fan.

• Be optimistic yet credible.

Minnesotans need to hear that they can build major-sports winners, but you've got to be careful about bluster. We've been burned by Lou Holtz and had our ears singed by Tim Brewster. Take a lesson from Kill: You can inspire optimism without selling snake oil.

Any Gophers fans who still care about the football and basketball programs have already proved their staying power. They can be patient, if you offer a hint of promise.

If you can support and lead winning football and basketball programs, you'll become a local hero.

It's about time the U had a hero.

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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