Athletics Director Maturi reflects on his long road to U

Than Tibbetts

Sue LaTendresse said she was having phone trouble Wednesday night, so she tried to call her office answering machine at 11 p.m. to see if her connection was bad. To her surprise, her boss, Athletics Director Joel Maturi, answered the phone.

“What are you doing there?” she asked him. “I told your wife you’d be home tonight.”

Although Maturi’s critics might doubt his coaching choices or stadium plans, they might be hard-pressed to find someone who questions his work ethic.

Maturi, 59, has been the University’s athletics director for two years. In that time, he has merged the men’s and women’s athletics departments, helped to launch a stadium campaign and dealt with an athlete’s death.

“He starts every day, goes running, and he’s at his desk at 6:30 (a.m.),” said LaTendresse, Maturi’s executive secretary.

Growing up

Maturi grew up in the Iron Range city of Chisholm, Minn., when the iron mining industry was booming and Iron Range cities reaped the benefits of a thriving economy.

Maturi recalled an area with great schools, good buildings and good teachers. Unfortunately, he said, he grew up very fearful of his father.

“If you ever saw the movie ‘The Godfather,’ that was my dad,” he said. “When we did something wrong, we went and saw Dad. That wasn’t good.”

Maturi said he was afraid to ask his father if he could borrow the family car. He said he would go to his mother and ask to have the car to drive to the library.

“She’d say, ‘Go ask your father,’ ” he said. “I went and put my coat on and I walked.”

Maturi described his mother as a brilliant woman, a great educator and a tremendous mother.

And, as he found out later, Maturi said his father wasn’t as tough as the Godfather image he put out.

“Thank God he lived long enough that I found out he was just a teddy bear,” he said.

Maturi said he knew early on what he hoped to do with his life.

His fourth-grade classmates and he were asked to write a paper on what they wanted to do when they were older, he said.

Maturi wrote his paper on being a coach.

“Now that’s,” he paused, “kind of amazing.”

Maturi credits Chisholm’s recreational and youth sports programs for starting his interest in coaching.

Maturi played football, basketball and baseball at Chisholm High School, and he helped coach younger children in the sports programs.

The road to Minnesota

At one of his first coaching jobs at Edgewood High School, in Madison, Wis., Maturi worked his way up the ranks from assistant basketball and football coach to athletics director and assistant principal. Perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, the school’s colors were maroon and gold.

After 18 years at Edgewood, Maturi said, he was ready to move on.

A year later, Maturi said, he received a call from the University of Wisconsin and joined the ranks of collegiate athletics directorship.

From there, Maturi spent two years as athletics director at the University of Denver, a decision that he now questions.

“If I were to change anything in my life, I probably wouldn’t have gone there,” Maturi said. “It was hard on my family, harder than I ever expected, especially on my daughter, Annie.”

Lois Maturi, Joel Maturi’s wife, also said moving has been challenging.

“It was some transitioning because I had lived in Madison for nearly my whole life,” she said.

From Denver, Joel Maturi became the athletics director at the University of Miami-Ohio.

Joel Maturi said he told the University of Miami-Ohio’s president that he would only leave if he had the chance to be the athletics director at the University of Wisconsin, his alma mater the University of Notre Dame or the University of Minnesota.

“And interestingly enough, a search firm called me and asked if I was interested in being the (athletics director) in Minnesota,” he said.

Joel Maturi started his job at the University of Minnesota on Aug. 2, 2002.

A life of sport

Baseball coach John Anderson said that Joel Maturi has a full plate at the University of Minnesota.

“He’s got lots of energy. He’s willing to put his time in,” Anderson said.

Joel Maturi said the only way he knows how to win is to work harder.

“I don’t claim to be smarter than the next guy. So if I’m not smarter, I’d better work harder,” he said.

Mark Maturi, Joel Maturi’s son, said sports run in the family.

“I can only count two major family trips that were not associated with athletic events – Europe and Disney World,” Mark Maturi said.

Katie Maturi, Joel Maturi’s daughter, said her father and her uncles will play cards or bocce ball and spend hours disputing one play.

“You’ll never meet anyone more competitive than I am,” Joel Maturi said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”

Lois Maturi said she thinks her husband married the right person because she loves going to all the games.

“He got into the A.D. business sort of sideways, but he’s good at it, I think,” she said.

Joel Maturi said he still misses coaching.

“If I live long enough,” he said. “I’ll go back to it. I’ll retire and go volunteer someplace.”