Maturi talks past, present and future

by Andrew Krammer

University of Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi announced his retirement Thursday during a press conference with University President Eric Kaler. That same day, he sat down with the Minnesota Daily to discuss his decision to leave and his thoughts on the future of Gophers athletics.

Anyone who didn’t know you before today could have easily seen you have a deep emotional investment in this University. What will be the hardest part for you about stepping down as athletics director?

Well, that remains to be seen, because I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve always done this. I’ve always gotten up early and stayed up late. That’s been my life. I don’t know if I can sleep in; I don’t know if I can go to bed early. That’ll be a little bit of a change.

That’s why I’m so thankful to President Kaler that I’m not just done. It’d be impossible; at least I worry about it being impossible going from 90 hours to none. Although I think I would’ve found something to volunteer at or whatever it might be.

You’ve spent 10 years of your deep athletic career here at the University. What has it meant to you?

I hope I’m remembered — this is a struggle for me because I hate talking about myself — I hope I’m remembered as an individual who had a commitment to the student-athletes and to their successes, academically, socially and athletically. I think that’s what we’re supposed to be about in amateur athletics at an institution. I’d like to think I was that way when I was a high school coach and teacher. I’d like to think I was that way when I was an assistant, associate AD.

Those are the kinds of things I can control. I can’t control wins and losses; I can’t control all the fundraising aspects or attendance at games. I can do my best to hire the right people, put them in the right place with the right resources for them to be successful.

How has being a coach helped your transition so many years ago to an administrator? How has that helped you relate to not only your coaches, but your student-athletes?

That’s a really good question. I think it served me well and the places I have been, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily for the future.

I think it was hinted at today at the press conference — my guess is the next [athletic director] will be far more business knowledgeable than I and far more important for that aspect of college sports. Doesn’t mean we don’t have good people here to do that — that just wasn’t my strength as an AD, and I think who I was served Minnesota for a while, but I think it’s the right time for somebody else.

Multiple media outlets are reporting that your contract was not extended. If you were offered that extension, would you have not retired?

You know what, it was honestly said that 18 months ago was the time I decided if I wanted to continue. Because I could’ve stayed, I could’ve signed an extension. Anybody who feels differently about that, well, we’re all entitled to our thoughts, but that’s the honest answer. The honest answer is I could’ve signed a piece of paper 18 months ago that said I’m here another couple of years. But I didn’t sign that paper because I didn’t know if I wanted to work with the new president or if he wanted to work with me.

But I feel like the president and I have a good relationship. I think the most important thing for everyone to realize is when we talked — and we had more than one talk — he asked me, “How long am I going to keep doing this?” to me, implying he wanted me to stay on, and my answer was maybe one year, two at the most. And his comment to me made me think he said, “Well, if that’s the case, then I should make my decision now to change and bring in my own person and you stay on and help with the transition.” And that made a lot of sense to me.

I hope he stays the president for however many number of years he wishes to be. It makes a lot of sense to put his executive team on the front end, and I bought that; it made sense to me. Now, had I fought it, would he allow me to continue? That remains to be seen. We never got that far.

Moving forward, you’ve always been a strong campaigner for all 25 sports, revenue or not. What would you like to see the University do moving forward since it’s always a tough balance keeping them afloat?

Well, that’s a challenge, and there will always be a challenge; that will never go away. We need to be more successful in our revenue sports and that’s the biggest challenge, because their success means that the nonrevenue sports can be successful and can be maintained.

I don’t know if it’s one thing versus the other. I’m not so sure just putting more money into the revenue sports means they’ll be successful — there’s that balance. It’s not just about money, but certainly part of it is a commitment that we need to make to our revenue sports, which I think we always have. Anybody who thinks differently, I respect their differences, but I would respectfully disagree.

One last question: What is going to last with you when you leave the University, and what memories will you take with you with the student-athletes and NCAA championships in nonrevenue sports and hockey?

When we bring in recruits, I tell them two things. One, that you leave the University of Minnesota with your degree. Two, that you leave the University of Minnesota with a positive and meaningful athletic experience, meaning that you are proud to be a Gopher. I want them to be conference champions and All-Americans, but I can’t control that. I can control the important parts: that they’re going to get their degree and they’re going to leave here feeling good about who they are and the efforts they’ve made. To me, that’s what I’ll leave with because I feel we’ve done that pretty well over the past 10 years.