University recalls accomplishments as Maturi steps downby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The man who has led the University of Minnesota's intercollegiate athletic program for the last decade announced Thursday that he is stepping down this summer. Joel Maturi said it was time for him to leave the high profile position.
Maturi choked back tears as he told reporters his tenure as athletic director would end when his contract expires at the end of June.
"We have a new president, and an old athletic director," Maturi said. "And rather than stay on one more year, allow the president to bring in his person and work with him during this transitional time, it makes a lot of sense."
Maturi conceded he'd been wondering if he was still up to the job.
"Eighteen months ago, I was for the first time in my life, feeling a little tired. As I turn 67 next week, that tiredness has not gone away," Maturi said. "I do not know how to do this job differently. Fourteen, 16-hour days have become more difficult for me."
ACCOMPLISHMENTS OVER SHORTCOMINGS
Over the last 10 years, Maturi has overseen the merger of the men's and women's athletic programs, putting them both on an equal footing, at least administratively. And during that time, the university has avoided the kind of academic and recruiting violations that brought down former men's basketball coach Clem Haskins and women's basketball coach Cheryl Littlejohn.
Perhaps Maturi's most visible achievement is the new stadium that brought football back to campus two seasons ago.
But the football team hasn't made a serious bowl bid during Maturi's tenure and a return to respectability still appears a ways off. The Gophers went 3-9 last season despite bringing in new coach, Jerry Kill, to revive the program.
Kill acknowledged the concern over the football program.
"He probably lost a few hairs over me, I can tell you that. I probably wore him out," Kill said. "He said he's gotten tired, it's probably 'cause of me wearing him out."
The Gophers' difficulties at TCF Bank Stadium have been joined by more problems at Williams Arena, across the street. Maturi lured one-time national champion coach Tubby Smith from Kentucky, but the basketball Gophers have struggled. They have a 4-6 conference record so far this year after last season's 6-12 finish in the Big 10.
Smith is currently negotiating an extension of his seven-year contract. As he announced Maturi's departure, university president Eric Kaler said coaching contracts would be on hold, as well.
"I think that makes sense. The new person is going to have to manage those transitions, but we're not talking about a long time here."
The university will conduct a national search for Maturi's replacement and expects to name a successor by July, Kaler said.
That person will have the challenge of reassuring Gopher fans like sophomore Tristan Rowley.
"Freshman year — a lot of people going to games and stuff. We weren't winning a lot, but there were a still a lot of people going to games. By the end of this last football season, the student section didn't even make it through halftime. People weren't even coming any more," Rowley said. "It was getting old, it was getting sick of losing."
'NO DUMB JOCKS'
Much of the talk on campus today reflected Maturi's accomplishments, not the university's shortcomings.
Wrestling coach J. Robinson won a national championship just three years ago, and said Maturi's real legacy is lost in the struggles of the high-profile sports on campus.
"Twenty-three of the 25 teams under Joel, OK, got a 3.0 [grade point average]," Robinson said. "You want student athletes, and everything else, and when everything else breaks bad, everybody's got a story. But here's a great story, okay, there's no dumb jocks."
The university's president acknowleged Maturi's success as he announced the departure as a "mutual decision."
"Throughout his tenure, Joel's priority has been, first and foremost, has been to make sure that student athletes got an education and earned a degree,"Kaler said. "Secondly, he worked tirelessly to make sure they had a meaningful and positive athletic experience. And finally, that everything would be done with integrity, candor, compliance, and making the hard decisions that go with that."
Although Maturi will step down as athletic director, he won't leave entirely. Maturi will stay on for another year as a special assistant who will teach and raise funds for the athletic department.
- All Things Considered, 02/02/2012, 5:20 p.m.