Grueling coaching search is nothing new for Maturi

The 65-year-old athletics director had to search far and wide for what he called "the last football coach I’ll ever hire."
By
December 08, 2010

Joel Maturi doesn’t sleep very much.

The Minnesota athletics director of eight-plus years asserts that his REM cycle conundrum has nothing to do with a recent 51-day search to find the next Gophers football coach, a hunt that concluded Sunday when his office announced the signing of Jerry Kill to a five-year contract worth at least $1.1 million per year.

Nor does Maturi’s sleep deprivation spawn from what he said is “probably the most public” criticism he’s received in the position as many questioned whether he would find an apt replacement for Tim Brewster, whom he fired Oct. 17.

“I’ve always been a four-hour guy,” Maturi, 65, said of his sleep pattern that didn’t change due to the search.

“I’ve always been a fighter; I’ve always been a competitor. I knew the job that was at hand and knew the importance of the decision and realized that it’s the last football coach I’ll ever hire.”

Maturi’s contract runs out in 2012, and he said he has no plans to sign an extension offer from University President Bob Bruininks. Bruininks hired Maturi in July 2002, and when he retires next summer, Eric Kaler will become Maturi’s new boss. The two have met only once, and in that recent meeting they didn’t discuss future plans, Kaler said.

“I don’t want to be here if the boss doesn’t want me to be here,” Maturi told the Minnesota Daily on Nov. 13 at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium while he watched the Gophers upset the Illini, their first win since Sept. 2.

Kaler’s immediate reaction to Kill’s hiring is that “he’s a very good pick,” he said. Maturi and Bruininks asked for Kaler’s input on the search, but Kaler said he had faith in their process.

The current Stony Brook provost and vice president used the phrases “great integrity,” “centered” and “very high quality” to describe Maturi in a phone interview this week. Kaler admits, though, he hasn’t had a chance to “really get to know him.”

Others have had plenty of opportunity to form an opinion of Maturi, and some have gone to great lengths to make those feelings public knowledge.

SaveGopherFootball.com, a group consisting of boosters and former Gophers players, paid for two full-page ads in the Daily that expressed discontent and a lack of confidence in the AD.

After learning of Kill’s hiring, one of those players, former defensive end Ben Williams, told the Daily, “That’s not what I wanted to hear.”

“Criticism comes with the territory in a job like his or like mine,” Kaler said of the growing vilification of Maturi. “You expect to see that, particularly if a team that’s as visible as the football team isn’t having a lot of success right now on the field.”

The turmoil surrounding the football program never swayed Kaler’s desire to be the University’s next president, he said.

And the negativity around Maturi and the program actually may have hurt the Gophers’ shot at a bigger name than Kill.

“I believe some people withdrew because of the negativity,” Maturi said. “I don’t know how it could help.”

Maturi interviewed “many” candidates for the vacant coaching position, but would only wryly name three people to whom he made offers — Tony Dungy, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez and Gophers’ men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith.

Asked if the process was difficult, Maturi said: "I don’t know if the word's difficult. It wasn’t fun, so there's a different use of words there. I know who I am; I know what my job is. I'll keep doing it to the best of my ability as hard as I can, and I think you have to stay true to your own values and stay true to what you think is important here at the University of Minnesota and I think I can honestly say I did that."

After firing Brewster, he said he was looking for a current BCS coach, by which he meant to say one who leads an automatic qualifier (six conferences are guaranteed a BCS Bowl berth). Every Football Bowl Championship team has a chance to play in a BCS Bowl, and Boise State’s Chris Petersen, like Kill, doesn’t fall into that description. However he said it, Maturi wants those words back, even if he is thrilled about Kill and the future of the football program.

“I wish I had those words back,” he said. “That’s somebody saying more than he should and speaking loud. I knew from day one there was not going to be a BCS coach at the University of Minnesota, a successful BCS coach.”

Dungy didn’t fit all of the parameters desired by Maturi, either, because he isn’t a sitting college coach. Neither were the coordinators or professional coaches — reportedly Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and CFL coach Marc Trestman — he acknowledged interviewing along the way.

But Maturi wanted to cover all his bases in finding the best fit, which he said is Kill. To do that, Maturi said he talked to every FBS AD who made a coaching change in the last two years to see who else they considered. Among those ADs was Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick, who hired Brian Kelly in December 2009. Kelly previously worked at Central Michigan, a Mid-American Conference program like Northern Illinois where Kill worked, before moving onto Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

Maturi’s previous job was as AD for MAC school Miami (Ohio) from 1998 to 2002, but those conference ties didn’t play into the decision to hire Kill. Maturi knows that some coaches have faltered after moving up from the mid-major, but others have had outstanding careers.

Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Michigan’s Bo Schembechler both coached at Miami before moving into Big Ten roles they held for more than 20 years.

“The reality is there are no guarantees,” Maturi said. “There has not been a coach here at the University of Minnesota who’s left here with a winning Big Ten record since Murray Warmath (who retired in 1971).

“That’s seven full-time coaches. That should tell us all something. It ain’t easy.”

Neither is running a 25-sport athletics department and keeping it in the black, which Maturi has come close to doing most years, though he’s been hampered by paying buyouts after firing football coach Glen Mason and men’s basketball coach Dan Monson.

Still, some might remember Maturi for his greatest hire in Smith, a coach who came to Minnesota from Kentucky with a national title under his belt.

“It’s great. It’s great,” Smith said of his relationship with Maturi. “I think he’s one of the best ADs in the country.”

Whenever Maturi is done, whether by his decision or Kaler’s, he’d prefer to be remembered by what his student-athletes accomplished, like a school-record 71 percent graduation rate last year.

“Forget legacies. I never talk about legacies,” Maturi said. “This has never been about me, and when I retire we’re going to have a little party at Campus Pizza.”

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