The Board of Regents was about halfway into a spirited, 57-minute discussion about Gophers athletics Thursday, when Chairman Dean Johnson interjected.
“If I’m a potential athletic director candidate at the University of Minnesota, and I’m listening to this discussion and doing my homework,” Johnson said, “ … I’m going to scratch my head and say, ‘What kind of job am I getting myself into?’ ”
The regents had reached the “New business” item on their agenda, and spent nearly an hour batting around issues that could impact the AD search.
Regent Michael Hsu presented one resolution that would require board approval for the largest Gophers coaching contracts, such as the one for men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino that features a $7.1 million buyout.
The board voted to send that resolution to the governance and policy committee when the regents reconvene May 12-13.
“I’m disappointed,” Hsu said. “We basically punted, and I believe that we really should be addressing these issues.”
Regent Darrin Rosha, who had supported Hsu’s resolution, followed with his own proposal. His resolution would have established an ad hoc committee of six regents to recommend budgeting principles and set priorities for the athletics department. The goal was to give the board a chance to establish its own parameters for the AD search.
Johnson noted there is already a 16-member search committee for the AD, with two regents (Thomas Anderson and Peggy Lucas) serving as advisers to President Eric Kaler.
“I’m not saying [the ad hoc committee] is a bad idea,” Johnson said. “I just think if this resolution passes, we’re going to tie the hands and have less interest from very capable [AD] candidates.”
Rosha eventually withdrew his resolution, after getting Johnson’s assurance it would be revisited in May.
Last week, Kaler unveiled the AD search committee, along with the search firm (Turnkey) that is assisting the University for $150,000 plus expenses. On Thursday, Kaler said he hopes to have a new AD picked by late spring.
Hsu has acknowledged that his resolution calling for board approval of large contracts stems from concerns over Pitino’s contract extension. That deal was finalized just days after former AD Norwood Teague’s abrupt resignation last August. It extended Pitino’s contract by two years, gave him a $400,000 raise and increased his buyout by more than $4 million.
Under Hsu’s resolution, the board would have final approval over contracts valued at a total of at least $600,000 or exceeding $250,000 annually. The board had approval authority over coaches contracts until 1996.
Nobody mentioned Pitino or any other current coach by name Thursday. In an e-mail to the Star Tribune this week, Kaler expressed concern that Hsu’s proposal could diminish the AD’s authority and make the job less attractive.
Regent Laura Brod, while not in full support of Hsu’s resolution, said Thursday: “I’ve heard it will scare away [AD] candidates, and I just don’t buy that. I think good candidates want to have good relationships with their administration and with their board.”
Beth Goetz, the interim AD since Teague resigned, has announced her candidacy for the permanent position.
Following Thursday’s long discussion of athletics, Johnson said, “We let this go for a while today intentionally because people have been calling and talking about these matters, so let’s just have it in the public arena.
“The board culture through my years has changed. You know, you used to come in here, have coffee, vote on some motions. But this board is more engaged. And so there’s this — I’d call it healthy — tension between the board and the president, the direction.
“But the bottom line is there are 12 regents here who care deeply about athletics. And they want winning teams, competitive teams nationally. And they’re trying to figure out how we are best to get at that through the hiring of the new athletic director.”