The Gophers athletic department suffered another black eye that brought the kind of negative, unwanted attention that has become all too familiar.
No one felt surprised. That’s the sad part.
Oh, we’re all shocked by the lewd details, the fact that a person in Norwood Teague’s position would act like such a Neanderthal. But not shocked that something like this happened to the Gophers, another deep dive into a pile of dung.
Same old, same old.
That was the initial reaction, right? Like clockwork, happens every time something goes wrong in Dinkytown.
Within hours of Teague’s resignation as athletic director, three people sent me text messages. A former university employee, a die-hard fan and a booster. All shared a similar theme in their words.
Here we go again.
It’s fair to guess that employees inside the department shared that same deflation of morale, which is too bad because a lot of earnest, hardworking, passionate folks work in the Bierman complex. They deserve better.
University President Eric Kaler tried hard to create a clear divide between Teague’s conduct and his school’s image, saying one man’s deplorable actions shouldn’t define an entire operation.
That’s true, except this athletic department owns an impressive history of screw-ups so it’s not easy to just brush aside another ugly moment as an isolated event.
The accumulation of disappointment over the years — NCAA violations, misdeeds, awful hires, heartbreaking defeats — has created this perception that the school can’t get out of its own way and that bad things are unavoidable, as if it’s part of the DNA of being a Gophers fan.
Instability at key positions in college sports — AD, football and basketball coaches — stunts momentum and forces athletic departments to continually hit the reset button. The Gophers know that too well. They need normalcy for once.
That’s why this latest setback feels particularly jarring. The Gophers finally established a positive vibe with the rise of Jerry Kill’s football program and their long overdue facilities project moving closer to reality. The perception and culture began to feel different.
And now this.
Contrary to concerns voiced by some fans, this embarrassment won’t affect recruiting one iota. Sure, some competitors might try and use it against them, but high school kids couldn’t care less about an athletic director.
The fundraising component probably won’t suffer much either, if at all. Teague billed himself as a deal closer who could entice boosters to write big checks. But his slick style of schmoozing also worked against him and rubbed some donors the wrong way.
The school is scrambling to make sure donor commitments remain solid in the wake of Teague’s messy exit, but the guess here is that it won’t derail the facilities project.
Kill remains so hellbent on breaking ground on his new facility this fall that any further delays might cause him to rent a backhoe and start digging himself.
Teague ultimately proved to be a bad hire by Kaler, and the president can’t swing and miss on such an important position again. The Gophers carry a $105 million athletic budget. This is not a mom-and-pop operation.
The Gophers need a leader who understands the department’s unique challenges while also recognizing the escalating demands of an arms race in college sports.
For all of his now-known personal flaws, Teague realized that football and men’s basketball served as his department’s bell cows and he catered to them. His facilities plan was ambitious. He had the right focus but poor execution.
Those who cling to the idyllic perception of college athletics probably resent the fact that football and basketball are placed on a pedestal above every other sport, but that’s the reality now.
The best athletic directors are able to prioritize without alienating. To make everyone believe in a greater goal, even if they’re not treated the same. In that regard, Teague failed miserably as a leader.
Kaler’s next athletic director has fences to mend, but that person must demonstrate leadership that acknowledges the importance of a healthy, winning football program to the overall department and university.
Coaches speak highly of interim AD Beth Goetz, but current Senior Associate AD Dan O’Brien, a former Hamline and Concordia (St. Paul) athletic director and football coach, also is widely respected within the department and deserves serious consideration. He has a strong ally in Kill.
This storm eventually will pass. Unfortunately, Gophers fans have been put in this position too many times.
Even when things look optimistic, some are always waiting for a new crisis or embarrassment to come along and spoil it. They’ve been conditioned to it.
They deserve a different narrative.
Chip Scoggins email@example.com