Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
A few leftovers from Sunday's story on Gophers' athletic director Joel Maturi, which will be online tomorrow:
-- Tony Dungy had a significant advisory role in the search for a new football coach, Maturi said, but people don't realize (or believe) it because the former Gopher quarterback and NFL coach prefers to keep his advice private.
"I spoke with Tony at least weekly, and we texted several times a week" during the seven-week search, Maturi said. "He shared what he knew about candidates, and he asked (coaching) colleagues about some, to help us learn about them. We asked him up front what coaches he thought might be a good fit. He was in the loop the entire way; he did not interview any candidates, but he was aware of who we were interviewing in advance, and he was aware of who agreed and didn't agree to interview."
Dungy had no particular connection to Jerry Kill, but Maturi discussed the eventual hire with Dungy, then introduced them.
"I wanted to make sure, because of who Tony is and what he represents, that he would be supportive of the selection, because he can help Jerry Kill be successful," Maturi said. "They spoke almost immediately (after Kill was hired), and have connected. Tony has an affection for this institution, and wants to see us succeed. I'm confident he and Coach Kill will have a good relationship, and Tony will do what he can to help us."
-- Maturi was reluctant to discuss any effects that the ex-players calling themselves Save Gopher Football had on the search. But he grew quite emphatic when asked about a quote in the school paper, Minnesota Daily, that the group frequently cited as evidence that the athletic director doesn't believe in his own school's potential.
"I think you need to know who you are," Maturi was quoted in a Jan. 24, 2010, story about athletic department finances. "And we at Minnesota are always going to be mid-Big Ten level, because that's where our revenues are."
That's been widely quoted, with the implication that Maturi believes conference championships aren't a realistic goal. But the athletic director strongly asserted that his answer was misunderstood: He was talking about the school's athletic budget, not its ability to win.
"It had nothing to do with success. It was not a question about winning and losing," Maturi said. "I simply said our revenues will always be in the middle, because of the size of our football stadium."
The Gophers can seat around 51,000 people in TCF Bank Stadium, which is less than half the capacity of stadiums at Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. "Do the math -- they earn $25 million more than we do in ticket sales alone, each and every season. That's a lot of money," Maturi said. "So we're middle of the pack, revenue-wise, because of our stadium. I don't apologize for that -- we just have to find ways to overcome that advantage."
One way is to make that revenue gap as narrow as possible, Maturi said, which means eliciting more donations and extracting more from the paying customers. "It's why we're going to be moving toward a "Gopher Points" system, and initiate preferred seating for hockey and basketball," Maturi said. "That won't be excitedly received, because who wants to pay more? But it's a way we can move toward generating extra dollars to maintain our sports."
-- Maturi no longer answers every email he receives, a feat he was proud of for the first few years of his tenure at Minnesota. "I have some stubbornness in me," he said.
But he finally drew the line with profane emails, and recently gave up on responding to viral emails, when someone posts "Here's his email address, write to him now" on a message board. "Suddenly, I'm getting 200 emails in 10 minutes, all of them the same," he said. "I'm glad people have passion, but I can't answer them all. I don't believe in canned answers, just copying an answer. And the numbers get too big sometimes."
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