Plan should improve merger

When Joel Maturi took over as athletics director in 2002, the men’s and women’s athletics programs had just merged, and the department was in financial disarray.

Last year, the athletics department devised a plan which includes a mission statement, vision and objectives. It outlined the athletics department’s plans to improve athletically, academically and financially.

The department recently finalized a strategic plan to implement its objectives, and presented it to department staff earlier this week. For the past year, Maturi worked with consultant Eric Ferris to bring the plan to life.

“I realized that I will have one of the best strategic plans in America sitting on my shelf because there was still a lot of work to be done for the merger, still a lot of work to be done with restructuring, still a lot of work to be done for us to move in the right direction,” Maturi said.

“Nobody had the time to grab hold of this and make it a living document,” he said.

Getting started

From November 2003 through spring 2004, Maturi worked with consultant Louellen Essex to devise the original departmental compact. Essex interviewed University athletes, coaches, administrators, boosters and others to learn what they thought were the department’s strengths and weaknesses.

Maturi then set out to draft a strategic plan for achieving the goals and objectives Essex identified, including top-three conference finishes every year, an annual graduation rate of 65 percent and a deficit-free budget.

Maturi said he had an idea of what he wanted, but struggled to articulate that vision.

“I worked for months on it and I just couldn’t put it down in writing,” he said. “Every time something was written, I could see by reading it myself that it just wasn’t what I wanted.”

With the 2003-04 academic year approaching, Maturi – who works 80 to 100 hours a week – said he realized he did not have the time he needed to complete the project by himself.

“The thing I’m finding about this job is that the time demands are so great that I’ve not found I have the time to be the implementer that I was at my previous institutions,” Maturi said. “I need someone with the expertise to follow some of these things through.”

Maturi brings in Ferris

That is when Maturi turned to Eric Ferris for help.

Ferris grew up in Barnesville, Minn., near Moorhead, Minn., in the Red River Valley. A student-athlete at Concordia College until his knees went out, Ferris went on to coach college basketball – men’s and women’s – in Divisions I, II and III.

Then Ferris went back to school and received his doctorate degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin. During his studies, Ferris said he found a strong correlation between athletics and strategic planning.

Ferris worked as a consultant in the Wisconsin athletics department for six or seven years, and now runs his own consulting company.

Last summer Ferris and a friend were discussing Minnesota athletics over a cup of coffee. When his friend mentioned he was meeting with

Maturi to discuss the University’s strategic planning process, Ferris asked if he could join them.

After Ferris attended two or three planning meetings, Maturi asked Ferris to assist in the process.

For the next six months, Ferris commuted from Madison, Wis., to meet with Maturi. Ferris received gas money, a place to stay at Maturi’s house and some meals for his work.

Ferris, who still has family in Rosemont, Minn., would meet with Maturi for three or four hours and spend the rest of the weekend visiting family.

In January, Maturi gave Ferris a six-month consulting contract to draft the strategic plan. During that time, he met with student-athletes and staff to discuss their ideas on how to attain the department’s objectives.

Now that the department is finalizing the strategic plan, Maturi has decided to retain Ferris for another year to help implement the plan. Earlier this month, Ferris leased an apartment in the Twin Cities, and said he will devote all his attention to carrying out the plan.

“It was very hectic splitting time between Madison and here, but now, for the near future, I’m dedicating all my time here,” he said.

Forging ahead

Some athletics department staff members have expressed concern that the strategic plan, like similar plans in the past, will accomplish little.

Maturi said he understands why coaches feel that way.

“They’re saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been here before; we’ve been through a lot of strategic plans. What does this mean?’ ” Maturi said. “That’s why I am determined to have this be different.”

But Jean Freeman, who coached swimming for 31 years and is now a special assistant to the athletics director, said this planning process has been more comprehensive than past efforts.

“It seems like it’s a lot more planned,” Freeman said. “We never hired someone to come in and do it before. It was more the athletics directors trying to do their particular systems.”

Ferris said the biggest barrier to the plan’s success has been the lack of consistent focus on the department’s future because of frequent leadership changes in the past.

The merger presented few problems for planning because everyone does the same jobs they always have, but in one department instead of two parallel units, Ferris said.

Ferris and Maturi presented the strategic plan to coaches and staff at meetings Monday and Tuesday, assigning deadlines and responsibilities for the plan’s objectives.

Some aspects of the plan have already started, but the full rollout will begin in August, Maturi said.