Part Three: Full interview with U of M fundraising chairman Lou Nanne

  • Updated: January 14, 2014 - 10:28 PM

"I’m a Gemini and I guess I’m a Gemini because I have restless energy."

Part Three: A transcript from an interview with the Star Tribune’s Dennis Brackin and Lou Nanne, chairman of the University of Minnesota’s $190 million athletics fundraising campaign:

Q: $190 million is ambitious. Is it realistic?

A: Oh yes, are you kidding me? Of course. I mean $190 million, what did they do in the academic, raise $1.2 billion? These schools are raising billions. Northwestern raised $200 million [for athletics], why can’t we raise $190? There you go with that small thinking again. This is what’s happened. This is exactly what’s happened.

Q: No because I’ve always been shocked being here that the University hasn’t raised the kind of money it needs. That surprises me, in this market.

A: It surprises me, too. Especially when we sit here with a very successful, philanthropic populous with many major Fortune 500 companies, this should not happen. This should not happen.

Q: Shouldn’t have fallen this far behind?

A: No, should not happen. I sit across here looking out my window and say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Please. I go to that little town in Ann Arbor and I see everything they got and I say, ‘What the hell is going on here?’

Q: Or West Lafayette, or Iowa City or Champagne, Illinois.

A: You know what happened, I personally think and I think it’s a big benefit to have professional sport teams here because it helps you in recruiting, if I’m an athlete I want to come watch these things,. But I think that the focus got away from the university when those pro sport teams came here. I think the focus came away and we never got it turned back to us. Now it’s time to turn it back. The university is not going anywhere. Other teams can always threaten to leave, we’re not going anywhere. We aren’t going anywhere.

Q: How many hours a week are you putting into this?

A: I don’t even think about it.

Q: A lot?

A: It all depends. If I have writers from the Tribune coming over, then a long time. I mean that’s not even a question I concern myself with. I’ve always had the good fortunate of being able to do a lot of things. I’m a Gemini and I guess I’m a Gemini because I have restless energy and I can’t do one thing.

Q: Are you satisfied where you are right now? What has the start been like?

A: Very encouraging because of the willingness of people to want to help. I’m really blown away. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Can I be on your committee?’ Which you just don’t expect. I’m excited that people want this thing to work. I’m excited that people think it can work. I’m excited that people think it should work and I guess I’m seeing the same feeling when you talk about it, that they’re tired and had enough of the stuff that we can’t compete. We’re Minnesota, when Minnesota does well people revel in it all across the world, people rejoice in it. People who lived in Minnesota, they take pride in it. I’m excited in the fact that people now finally realize we have to do something here to make this thing better.

Q: Do you specific events planned to raise money?

A: You’re not going to get what you need, I’ve had people call about putting on golf tournaments. I said, ‘Thank you,’ and we’ll do it if you want to run it I’ll do it and make a contribution, that’s fine. But you don’t get to $190 million by just fundraising events. You get to $190 million by people and corporations deciding, ‘I want to make this thing better for the state of Minnesota.’

Q: What’s your basic mode of raising money?

A: You see these things I have on? They’re called shoes and it’s a lot of walking and talking.

Q: No big ballroom speeches, just one-on-one and talking and the meetings?

A: Yeah and we have a really, really engaged group that wants to see this thing work. I think as I talk to people around the state that I’m finding a lot of people want to see this work and I’m encouraged. I don’t think people have really stopped to think about it and why is it important, why can’t we get this done, why haven’t we done it and why shouldn’t it be done now? I think that really when you look and ask why, it has never been addressed or challenged and now it is. I commend Norwood Teague and Kaler for having the vision they’ve got. If you let things go over a long period of time you’re challenge is always greater. We have to get back on track and start becoming the university we can be. This is something that is, to me, important to everybody in the state. As long as you live here it’s going to have some importance to you. Even if you leave and you have family here I think it is going to have importance to you. I know a lot of people have moved out of the state and I’m going to try to get them, too. They benefited from the state.

Q: When did you start this?

A: Three weeks ago.

Q: That’s all?

A: Yeah I haven’t even been at the meetings yet. We had one meeting before Christmas just to welcome everybody, get some thoughts, have Delaney speak to everybody to bring us up to date with where we are in relation to other universities. He said, very frankly, two teams have not made it in 20-some years, us I think and Indiana, to the Rose Bowl, and they’re at the bottom of the pack in facilities and you’re at the bottom of the pack.

Q: More than 20 years for Minnesota — the 1962 Rose Bowl.

A: For us yeah [it’s been that long]… but I don’t know about Indiana. You can just sit there and let things wallow and spiral out of control and not want to do anything about it or you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps and go. We’re encouraged by [football coach Jerry] Kill and [men’s basketball coach Richard] Pitino and their enthusiasm coming in here. We’re encouraged by the kind of response anytime we win a big game and people see the excitement. We know there is a feeling out there, but it’d the latent feelings that people have had that have to be aroused. I think the awareness is the thing we have to sell, of how important the university is to everybody in the state of Minnesota and how this is a big part of making the university more successful, more recognizable and more attractable for athletes to come here, and that means professors and students. It all works hand in hand, like a quilt.

Q: You were on Joel’s [former Athletic Director Joel Maturi] executive committee. Did you ever talk about facilities like this?

A: No.

Q: Do you blame Joel?

A: No, I mean Joel did a lot. He had to put two departments together and make them workable and get the focus going. Joel was successful in what he did. He was very involved in the stadium, so that was a good part of the vision, first 50,000 seat stadium in the country in 50 years for college. That was part of it. Now we need an overall look at things.

Q: Do you bring people through Bierman to show them the state of things?

A: Not yet, if they want to see them, definitely. I’m not going to name names and the hockey rink [Mariucci] is beautiful, but does the arena affect people? I know two people that went to North Dakota — not going to say who — that were coming here the following week for visits, different times, signed on the spot at North Dakota because of the rink there. Now just put that in football or basketball or other sports. We are at a disadvantage and we have world class coaches. Our wrestling coach, our volleyball coach, baseball coach, football, basketball, hockey, track, our coaches are world class. We have an unbelievable staff and we have to help them win. They are doing their part. We have to do our part.

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