For Gophers AD, inroads made but heavy lifting remains

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2013 - 12:27 AM

In his first year, AD Norwood Teague has laid the groundwork for his vision of Gophers athletics.

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Mark Santelman of Winthrop, Minn., had some 1-on-1 time with Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague during a gathering in New Ulm in mid-May. On the state of Gophers athletics, Teague said: “It’s tough for me with patience. And fans get impatient, too.”

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On the night before the Gophers home football game against Syracuse last fall, Norwood Teague, the school’s new athletic director, opened the doors to his two-story condo for a reception.

The guest list included boosters, university faculty, Gophers coaches from various sports, athletic department officials, even media members. He also invited Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross and his staff, as well as a prominent donor from Teague’s previous school, Virginia Commonwealth.

Hired largely on his reputation as a gifted fundraiser, Teague looked comfortable as he worked the room. He even kept fundraising in mind when he selected his home because he desired an open floor plan on the main level so that he could entertain large gatherings.

“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “Luckily, I enjoy it.”

But as Teague discovered in his first year in Dinkytown, his job requires more than an ambitious thirst for fundraising. As he approaches his anniversary this week, he is presiding over a department in transition, and experiencing the problems inherent in such makeovers. Teague has made sweeping changes in top-level personnel, one major coaching hire, suffered through one public relations crisis and has several times delayed unveiling a long-term facilities plan.

“It’s been probably the quickest year of my life,” he said. “I’m running really hard trying to meet a lot of needs and be a lot of places.”

Though he projects a relaxed Southern charm in public appearances, Teague also has exhibited a certain aggressiveness and willingness to shake things up in his desire to create a “national brand.” Seeking a “new set of eyes on our challenges,” Teague overhauled his management team by hiring and/or promoting five new administrators — including David Benedict and Mike Ellis from his staff at VCU — while letting go several holdovers from Joel Maturi’s staff.

He fired men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith, who had a $2.5 million buyout, after an NCAA tournament victory and replaced him with 30-year-old Richard Pitino. Teague said he received minimal criticism from fans for dismissing Smith, but he made a PR gaffe when the news leaked before the veteran coach had been informed.

Teague also has “totally rebuilt” his development department in order to breathe life into disjointed fundraising efforts. He changed management structure, beefed up staff and focused on more fan outreach.

“It’s tough for me with patience,” Teague said. “And fans get impatient, too.”

He felt that impatience after he agreed to pay $800,000 to cancel a home-and-home football series with North Carolina. Teague said he expected some pushback, but he underestimated the severity of fan backlash.

“It was a good learning experience,” he said.

In the aftermath, Teague invited more than 50 disgruntled fans to his office for individual meetings to discuss his reasoning and to hear their grievances.

“There was a guy who said, ‘You said should not take this personally [because] part of this is 40 years of frustration coming to the surface,’ ” Teague said.

Teague declined to say whether he would make the same decision again, indicating only that he wishes he had presented the announcement differently. “We all wish we had hindsight,” he said.

Facilities need donor

Teague’s legacy will be determined by his ability to raise money and build facilities, two areas that are intertwined. At his introductory news conference, he described the need to sell hope to fans. Prolonged struggles in football and men’s basketball have resulted in sagging attendance and a dormant donor base.

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  • Norwood Teague, left, and new men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino were part of the Gophers’ goodwill caravan that made a stop in New Ulm in mid-May.

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