In the hours before his stunning announcement Friday that his athletic director had abruptly resigned, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler reached out to major donors to make sure their pledges to a $190 million athletics facilities upgrade were still in place.
University officials insisted that the fallout from Norwood Teague’s resignation would be minimal on the school’s ambitious though delayed attempt to privately raise millions to enhance the university’s athletic facilities. “I believe our donors are giving to an athletic village program for the University of Minnesota,” Kaler said. “They were not giving to an athletic village program for Norwood Teague.”
But Teague, who resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment of two female university employees, had clearly been the public face of a plan that was initially scheduled to go before the school’s Board of Regents for approval in June, then was postponed until at least September. With fundraising now at the $80 million mark, school officials had earlier fast-tracked $150 million in football and basketball upgrades, along with a new nutrition and academic center.
University officials said while Teague’s departure was not delaying the athletic facilities upgrade, it was now unclear whether the project would go before the Board of Regents in September.
Some large school donors, however, were not unhappy about Teague’s departure.
“He was supposed to be a fundraiser,” said Dick Ames, the board chairman at Ames Construction and a financial contributor to the athletic village project. “Why wouldn’t they hire somebody in-state [instead of Teague who] could open the doors to some of those [local] Fortune 500 companies?
“In fact, if [the school] came to me, I might give them a little bit more after he’s gone than I would before.”
Ames said the school’s use of Lou Nanne, the former Gopher and longtime local hockey executive, to help lead the fundraising drive was meant as a message. “Why would they have Lou come on there?” Ames asked. “It wasn’t going very good.”
Fundraising goes on
Dean Johnson, chairman of the school’s Board of Regents, said Kaler briefed him on the sexual harassment allegations in a telephone conference call last Saturday and said that Kaler was busy talking to donors to the athletic village project late Thursday and again Friday. Both Kaler and Johnson said Teague might serve as a $285-per-hour consultant to the fundraising project, but Johnson said the former athletic director would be an “arms-length consultant” and would not be allowed on campus.
“I’m sure that Mr. Teague has had some courtship of potential donors — ongoing — and that finalization of the gift had not been made,” Johnson said. “[But] he’s a human being. He has an illness. He needs professional help. He’s probably, as we say, a prisoner almost in his own home. I know he’s embarrassed.”
A school official said the consulting arrangement would last for only one month.
Though Kaler had praised Teague only last month on his overall efforts — he said Teague had the athletic department “clearly moving in the right direction” — others on Friday tried to minimize Teague’s fundraising for the athletics remodeling.
“He is just a cog in the wheel,” said John Lindahl, a longtime school donor who recently contributed $17 million to the university. “I don’t think it really changes anything.”
Lindahl said two-thirds of his contribution would go to the athletics upgrade, and said he and his wife, Nancy, had played a role in persuading Land O’Lakes Inc. to pledge $25 million last year to the school’s academic and athletics program.
Gophers football coach Jerry Kill also said the fundraising would continue. “Nothing’s going to stop,” said Kill, who has said the facility remodeling is critical to the school’s ability to compete with the top athletic programs in the country and had wanted an early groundbreaking. “You put [Teague’s resignation] behind you, get it all over today and let’s go to work tomorrow and move on.
“I said at the very beginning, I was going to make sure we had it done by August and if not, they should fire me. [Well], I guess they gave me an extended couple months.”