Maturi deserves big-time praise for big-time hire of Smith

by Zach Eisendrath

Athletic director Joel Maturi has taken plenty of heat over the past 14 months for making some more-than-questionable decisions.

But with the slam-dunk hire of former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith on Thursday, Maturi did plenty to fix his image and might have saved his job in the process.

In retrospect, Maturi probably should have let former Gophers football coach Glen Mason walk after the 2006 season without a contract extension. Instead, Maturi gave Mason a four-year contract worth $1.65 million per year, only to fire the embattled coach a year later, which cost the University $2.2 million to buy him out.

And looking back, Maturi likely should have let former basketball coach Dan Monson go at the end of the 2006 basketball season rather than giving Monson a vote of confidence and then awkwardly forcing him to resign just seven games into this season.

Had he made another significant slip up, Maturi likely would have been shown the door by University President Robert Bruininks.

But by snagging Smith, one of the winningest active coaches in college basketball, maroon and gold faithful are starting to warm up to Maturi, and that alone might add years to his stay.

At a January men’s basketball game, Maturi was booed heavily when he introduced new football coach Tim Brewster to the crowd.

But, evidently, Maturi’s stock has risen because at last Friday’s open news conference, Maturi received an ovation before addressing those on hand at Williams Arena.

And it appears the entire stock of the Gophers men’s basketball team has risen as well.

When the story of Smith’s hiring broke Thursday afternoon, I scrambled the street trying to find Minnesota basketball fans’ reactions to the Smith hiring. Problem was, I couldn’t find many students who wanted to acknowledge themselves as fans after the 9-22 campaign put forth this season.

But apparently Gophers fans were in hibernation Thursday because 24 hours later they were out in force as hundreds packed “the Barn.”

And three hours after Smith agreed to terms with the University, 254 season tickets were already purchased. By Friday afternoon that number reached 600.

The 55 year-old is already helping the University make plenty of money, but he is receiving plenty of capital in return for signing the biggest contract in Gophers athletics history.

Smith will make $600,000 annually for coaching the team, but he will be making most of his income – at least $1,150,000 per year – for talking with the media, community work, endorsements and apparel, shoe and equipment contracts.

For just making the NCAA tournament, something Smith has done more times than in Gophers history, he gets $100,000. And if somehow the Gophers win a national championship, he will make an extra $975,000 for the championship journey.

Other perks for Smith include a vehicle provided by the University, 30 season tickets to men’s basketball games, eight season tickets to football games and four tickets to men’s hockey games.

Let me be the first to publicly request two of Tubby’s hockey tickets on nights his schedule conflicts, which should be on many occasions.

But in all seriousness, Maturi deserves much love right now.

While most judgment needs to be reserved until the Gophers take the court, this hire has already done wonders to rejuvenate a depleted program.

Once Smith returns from his week stay in Lexington, Ky., he will be the center of attention.

But until he coaches his first game, Maturi finally deserves some praise. After all, he is the man credited for landing a guy most thought would have no interest in a recently declining program.

Zach Eisendrath welcomes comments at [email protected]