Exit Interview With Gophers AD Joel Maturi
In May 2009, booster T. Denny Sanford made a $6 million donation to the TCF Bank Stadium fund that enabled the "U" to reach its $86 million fundraising goal.
According to a few insiders, that gift never would have been made without departing athletic director Joel Maturi.
But Maturi has lots of detractors. I can think of one high-level booster who has refused all monetary requests solely because of Maturi's presence.
That mirrors Maturi's 10-year run as the boss of Gophers athletics.
Internally, he was beloved. Best of luck trying to get anyone to say a bad word about him even on background.
But externally -- whether it was the botching of the Dan Monson firing, the Tim Brewster hiring, the Jimmy Williams lawsuit, the decision to not allow Trevor Mbakwe to play right away or Royce White ever -- Maturi was a constant lightning rod.
He wasn't a failure though.
Maybe it took too long, but the football palace happened under his watch, as did the merging of the men's and women's athletic departments in 2002.
Maturi, for the most part, did a fabulous job balancing a budget that recently was as high as $78 million annually. His decision to extend men's hockey coach Don Lucia in October -- at a time many alumni tried convincing Maturi to make a change -- has worked out OK.
Yet, only once each in his decade did the football and men's basketball teams finish with an above-.500 conference record.
On the flip side, Maturi's skeptics can feel good he turned down an opportunity to sign a contract extension. Among ex-president Bob Bruininks' final duties was offering Maturi a deal to be the athletic director into 2013, and likely beyond. To Maturi's credit, he thought it was only fair that the new president decide his fate.
Dr. Eric Kaler chose to go in a different direction in February, telling Maturi his contract would not be renewed. His compromise was to keep Maturi around as an adviser at a salary of approximately $350,000 per year.
Maturi will spend the next year fundraising, teaching, helping new athletics director Norwood Teague make the transition and assisting Dr. Kaler with whatever he asks.
As Maturi's 10-year tenure comes to an end Friday afternoon, KSTP-TV's Chris Long and I sat down on Tuesday afternoon with one of the school's all-time polarizing figures.
The fact we are sitting at TCF Bank Stadium, and not in your office, is that another reminder that the end is very near?
I keep telling people I'm homeless and office-less right now. It's all a part of the process. I'm ready for the next stage.
You are an emotional individual. How emotional are you?
I'm handling it pretty well. Partly because I have always been good at playing the hand I'm dealt. I've been through different phases of my life. I left coaching. I left a school I was at for 19 years. Then I go to a different institution. I've been an athletic director at three different institutions, and quite frankly, loved every place I was at. I am blessed and fortunate to be here at Minnesota for at least another year, so I realize it's the next stage in my life.
It has been a good run ...
Depends on how you look at it. I think it has been a great run. I'm thankful for the opportunity. I think we have done lots of good things. As I tell people, no alibis, no regrets, but lots of disappointments. But that's life. When I coached, I told my teams how you respond to adversity is how you're measured. I think I responded to adversity OK.
What are some of those good things?
Well, it's in the eyes of the beholder. People would think TCF Bank Stadium. I will always feel a sense of pride that I was a part of that. Merging the departments, balancing the budget, not having any major violations, and some of the coaching hires of sources of pride.
I am most prideful of the culture I believe we developed in Gopher athletics. I believe we have a family. I believe we have most people who enjoy coming to work and enjoy one another. I think we've made great progress with our academics and with the student-athlete experience, which is why we're supposed to be doing what we're doing.
It has been a wild 10 years -- merging departments, hiring and firing coaches, fixing the budget, the Big Ten Network, an addition to the conference -- a lot has happened ...
That's the exciting part about collegiate athletics. You see young people grow. Some leave with more rewards and success than others. But they all can leave with their degree and a positive experience. I think the great majority of our kids who stay do that.
How is your job different now compared to when you started?
It is far more of a business than it was. It's more of a business director. The money has gotten significantly greater in my 10 years. It has always been a lot, but it's significantly greater now -- paying coaches, the money we need to do improve our facilities and that arms race that is a reality.
Also, the media has changed. Your job has changed. The blogging, the internet, the instant communication, and needing to respond to everything. When I started, there was no such thing as email. That's what has changed.
How involved will you still be in athletics?
That's up to Norwood Teague and Dr. Kaler. I know the president wants me to help with the transition. Norwood and I have communicated and I told him, I'd do anything he asked me to do. I don't want to step on his toes. It's now his athletics department, as it should be. I hope he'll rely on me for some history and knowledge, and if I can help out, I will do that. He's known as a good fundraiser, someone who is strong externally. If I can help him open some of those doors, then I'll do so. I know the president has some projects he'd like me to do. Then I'll teach a class, which I'm excited about.
Those projects are ...
The university along with the Big Ten are looking at some institutional control issues, probably brought on by the things at Penn State and Ohio State in the past year. We're looking at the best practices at each of our institutions. President Kaler has told the other presidents and chancellors that he'll take a leading role. I'll be involved in assisting. As you know, the Vikings are coming to TCF in a couple years, so it makes some sense for me to be involved. I was very involved in the one game played here (vs. Chicago).
Will you be on the road a fair amount? Won't fund-raising be a big deal?
That's up to them. I need to do what Steve Goldstein at the Foundation wants me to do. I won't be knocking on anyone's door that Norwood and Dr. Kaler don't want me knocking at. If it involves some travel, I'm ready.
A hypothetical: a coach comes to you at your University Avenue office with concerns. Will you be receptive or tell them they have to go to Norwood?
It's always good to listen because sometimes people just want to share something with a friend. If I can help give them advice, that's great. I certainly won't make any decisions about what their next step should be. I'll tell them to talk to Norwood, that he'll be receptive.
I'd like to think I'm a good listener, and if I can provide an opportunity for somebody, the door is open.
How much better shape is the department in now compared to your first day?
It wasn't in bad shape. There were just two at the time. We're better now because we're one. The good news is we have balanced the budget for 10 years. We hadn't done that regularly in the past for lots of reasons. I feel good about that.
The fact of the matter is we don't have much money in the bank. We need to do that. That's why fund-raising needs to go up a level. That will be a point of emphasis for Norwood. Not that it wasn't for me, but it's not what I was hired to do because of the other needs and demands at the time. We obviously raised a few bucks for TCF. We need to now do it for reserves, for some things we can do, instead of living day-to-day that we've really done for 10 years.
Dr. Kaler told us that he expects Norwood to bring in his own people. You get that sense?
It's up to Norwood. I didn't bring anyone in and there are several reasons for that: we were merging two departments and we already had more people than what was needed. Two administrators were not renewed.
I'm a white male, so I didn't think it was right to bring in another male. Most of my associates, those I was closest with, were males. I didn't bring in anyone, and I think it worked OK.
If Norwood has a comfort level, especially if he's as external as he is, he may need to bring in someone to run the daily part of it. I think there are some really good internal people who could do that, but if needs someone he's comfortable with, I understand.
You have no regrets, but you chose to go to events like a swimming meet over a dinner with a possible donor. Is that just one example of how the job has changed, where the dinner is more important now?
If I were hired today, maybe that's the approach I would take. But 10 years ago with the two departments merging and the commitment to 25 sports, which was important to me ... but I am not naïve to what the needs of the job are. I think I shared a couple things with Norwood: I've answered every email. I told him I wouldn't do that. I get so many of them and more are negative, which is understandable. Somebody can do that (answer the emails) for you. I spend a lot of time doing that. I'm not sure I would go down that path if I took the job today. Those sorts of things have changed.
I'll say this: even on background, it's hard to get a coach to savage you.
That's not true.
You take a lot of criticism. Do you wish that the average fan knew you better?
I'm human. I don't like the criticism, but I understand. Most people who know me at least feel good about my effort and about what I've tried to accomplish. Most people in life don't succeed at everything they do. I have made mistakes. I wish I had some decisions back. None were made without a lot of homework and research and effort and trying to do what was best for the University in the long run. Many of the decisions will show they were good.
People are upset that I put forth the (basketball) preferred seating program. Who wants to pay more money? But it's the right thing. It needed to be done and should've been done years ago. It's a forced donation, but it is a donation. It will enable us to put in new scoreboards, new ribbon boards. You will see a difference in Williams and Mariucci.
People will say, 'Wow.' We couldn't have done it otherwise because we didn't have the resources. It those kinds of things that are the right thing. Our points system was set up where they could move and not pay an extra dollar. There aren't many prices in big-time college athletics where you can sit on the 20-yard line, or in chair-back seats for hockey and basketball, and not pay an extra dollar outside of the season ticket price. Some are angry, so those are some of the emails I receive.
While you're talking about the basketball seating, after a few weeks, is the reception at least OK?
Hockey is at 90%, which is tremendously high. Basketball is closer to 85%. That's understandable because there aren't as many good basketball seats if that makes sense. There's not a bad hockey ticket, plus we're coming off a good season. People want us to get back to the Frozen Four. The basketball year wasn't as good, although it ended well.
Any specific memories stick out from the last 10 years?
Winning is good memories. Sometimes it's a league championship, sometimes it's an NCAA championship, and sometimes it's an individual championship. (Wrestler) Jayson Ness completing an undefeated season a year ago in the last seconds of the championship bout -- I don't know if there is a thrill better than that. He's a young man who is quality, a good student, a good person, then to come away with a championship was pretty special.
We didn't go to the Rose Bowl, which I said on July 12, 2002, was my goal. We didn't achieve it, but I think we have worked hard to. I think we have put the people in place to maybe get there, but it's not easy. We haven't been there in 50 years, so it's proven that it's not easy. That is the goal. Jerry Kill is the best guy to give us a chance to get there.
A parallel can be drawn with students graduating. That's you moving on.
I told that to somebody. It took me longer to graduate, 10 years, but I'm a slow learner. There are parallels. As they are moving on to a different phase of their lives, so am I. That's how I look at. Embrace it. Take advantage of it. My wife and I have chosen to stay here in Minnesota and continue to be Gophers. Now, I will sit in the regular seats and cheer the Gophers on. I might even yell at the refs, which I couldn't do when I was the athletic director.
Inevitably, you will see a decision or a hire that you don't agree with. You now get to sit back and say that's not my problem now.
I'll be like fans and the media. I'll have all the answers, but will keep them internally.
I hear you're moving ...
We sold our townhouse. We're living with our daughter and son-in-law and their two big dogs right now. She's pregnant, which is exciting. I've told people that will save my marriage because Lois (Maturi's wife) will see more of me than she has in the 38 years of our marriage. We are moving to a little house on a lake just north of campus, about four miles. It's in St. Anthony Village. We're really excited. We're rebuilding a home and moving there in September.
Is there a big going-away party?
Part of my agreement to leave with Dr. Kaler was that we wouldn't have such an event. That's who I am. I've never felt comfortable in that setting. I'll say thank you, shake some hands, and we'll go out for a pizza and maybe a Diet Coke. But no big event. That was my choosing. I am grateful that they honored that. I am not leaving. I will be here. We'll do that another time, another way.
I figured they'd roast you ...
A lot of people wanted to. We decided to not go down that path.
Norwood Teague is a good guy, isn't he?
Those who know him, worked for him, rave about him. He'll be a good fit at this time. More importantly, he'll love Minnesota and people will embrace him. I don't think we're broken, but we can get better. He'll make us better.