It's nearly time for the official changing of the guard inside the Gophers athletic program.
With University of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi poised to step down at the end of the month (he will take a less-involved administrative role), Norwood Teague will take over the position officially on Monday. The North Carolina native has talked a lot about his propensity for fundraising, mostly, he says, because of what he dreams he can accomplish with the funds. Top of the list? Football budgetary improvements, a contract extension for Tubby Smith and a basketball practice facility. Those things are important, Teague says, but his most important goal: winning.
Q Joel Maturi has made it clear that he's not exactly thrilled with how much of a business college athletics and the job of an AD has become. But it seems like you really embrace that aspect.
A I really do. You can call it the business side, but I think it's more the people side as it relates to fundraising, as it relates to
marketing, as it relates to the external side ... that's one of the reasons why I'm in it. I believe in what it does for the student-athletes, I believe in what it does for the university. I think my strengths are being a people person, and I think all of us can enjoy things we have a talent in doing. But I will say this: I mean I'm competitive. I want to win and I want to do extremely well for the department, and part of that, your job as an AD, is to make money for the department, and I look at that as a really fun challenge and something that I just really eat up.
Q So what's first on the tackling list?
A The first thing I've got to do is honestly get there and start meeting with coaches, administrators, student-athletes and getting a really good idea of what's going on and the top four or five things that I have to do in the first six months. I strongly believe the first 100 days are ones that you do a lot of listening, and I don't think you can make too many rash decisions that are going to be major.
Q What have you heard from the coaches so far as far as what the program needs and what they want from you?
A With [football coach] Jerry [Kill]: I know is big on some of the areas in his program that need budget help whether it be moving the training table or redoing the lockers in his practice locker room or travel issues, where they need some more help financially to operate at the level they need to be operating at. With [basketball coach] Tubby Smith: First of all it's his contract. I think we're pretty far down the road on that, and I've felt good about that, getting him solidified there and completing that process ... and I think we're making progress on that. It's not done yet but hopefully it's something that will be done very soon.
Q You said you've already talked to fundraising and facility departments about a basketball practice facility.
A That's something we've got to make a reality. Unbelievably we have room for it behind Williams Arena, which I think is sometimes the biggest stumbling block. They've done a lot of work on that, and I've just got to go in and push it forward as quickly as we can. And that's something that Tubby -- well, he's passionate about it.
Q How big of a challenge is that and the funding/approving of other facilities going to be? There's been talk of improvements for a long time.
A It's always going to be a challenge. How big of a challenge is it? I would say significant. I do think there's a lot of passion out there for the U to compete at a higher level and succeed at a higher level, and it's going to be up to me to sell that position. ... I want to undertake a master facility plan. We need a vision to sell and we've got to put everything down on paper with designs as it relates to the facilities for the next 10 years or so. When you put together a plan like that, it tends to excite your donors and hopefully it will do that at Minnesota.
Q How do you prioritize the facilities needs of all the programs?
A You really have to go through the exercise of finding out which of those projects are necessities and which are important but maybe don't need to be done for the next two-three years. It's just a matter of evaluating. ... I think over time you see that this edges out this one as a higher priority, or this edges out this one as a higher priority.
Q You made some structural changes at VCU [Virginia Commonwealth] with the way you organized staff and focuses. Do you plan on doing anything like that at Minnesota?
A Well, I've got to look at it. I don't know. There are different structures that work differently at different places. I've got to give myself some time to evaluate that, and ... see where people's talents are. One size does not fit all, and I've got to figure out what fits at Minnesota with what we have now.
Q Do you have a feel for the culture in the U-M department yet?
A I think I'm getting it. I think there's -- much like it is outside the department -- there's strong, strong, strong desire to win and improve in a number of different ways, and with facilities. I think it's very similar in that people are really hungry, really hungry.
Q Hungry is one word. Bitter is another. How do you change some of the resentment in the community or the apathy and frustration surrounding the program?
A Yeah -- here's an example of that. I got on a plane flying back to N.C. and there was two gentlemen on the plane with me. They were both from the Twin Cities -- one was sitting in front and one was sitting beside me. One couldn't be kinder. He was saying, 'You're saying all the right things, and I think you have a great plan, and I congratulate you for being here,' and the other says, 'Well you've got nowhere to go but up because they haven't done a thing.' I was like, whoa. I see a lot of that. There tends to be two sides to it. There's just this rabid, passionate, positive, feeling like we can get there. And then there's that other side that's just really frustrated, and I think they've thrown up their hands. I think to win that group, you've got to sell a vision and you've got to show success. They've got to start believing in what you're doing. And you can talk all you want, but you've got to start putting that into place.
Q Do you plan on making any staff changes?
A Not right now. I've seen others make some mistakes by jumping too quick in those areas as much as you feel like maybe you want to. But you've just got to be patient. And when I mean patient, I mean a couple months, not a year.
Q How do you feel about the new preferred seating plan?
A Once that's put into place, it's hard to go back on it. I've got to see how it goes. It seems to be going pretty darn well. How soon we'll do it again, I don't know about that, but once it's put in place, it's set in motion to happen again. And probably 80 percent of the individual schools in the country do that. It can be really tough on your donors, especially some of the ones that have been there a long time and get moved around -- and I'm certainly sensitive to that, but it's just kind of the nature of what goes on.
Q Is keeping 25 sports realistic?
A It's sometimes very debatable how much money you actually save by cutting sports for the pain you have to go through. I've been in places -- North Carolina has 28 sports -- that are like the U that have that number of sports and do very well at it. I think you've just got to -- if it comes to a situation where you have to cut sports, you're going to know it. ... It makes it hard, but I've been at places that have made it work, and I believe in it.
Q What are your long-term goals?
A What's on my mind right now and what I sense is a huge priority for us -- we've got to get football and men's basketball winning at a really high level, and that is just a reality. I know coach Smith wants to win at a higher level and be more consistent, and we've got to do the things around his program that we've got to do to get him there. Obviously coach Kill needs a lot of budgetary support, and also we just need time.
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