Boosters, ex-players criticize coach search

Former players want a more active role in the search for the new head football coach.

Andrew Baker

A group of former Gophers football players and major donors has mobilized against athletic director Joel Maturi, complaining of disenfranchisement in the coaching search and claiming he cannot be trusted to choose a suitable replacement for ousted coach Tim Brewster.
The group created a website, savegopherfootball.com, and took out a full-page ad in last ThursdayâÄôs Minnesota Daily urging readers to âÄúhelp ensure Joel Maturi isnâÄôt the one to hire the next Gopher Head Football Coach.âÄù
The website and the ad cite a loss of momentum for the program during BrewsterâÄôs tenure and a $4,275,000 tab for the buyouts of dismissed coaches Glen Mason (football), Dan Monson (menâÄôs basketball) and Brewster.  
That the University of Minnesota chose the same firm that helped hire Brewster, Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search, to help find a new coach also drew their ire. Maturi said the decision will ultimately be only his.
The group, a loose connection of boosters and former players, wants Maturi to form a search committee involving a broader group of people involved with the program. They point to the hiring of Brewster âÄî who hadnâÄôt been a head coach above the high school level âÄî and his subsequent struggles as proof that the ninth-year athletic director lacks the judgment necessary to pick a worthy successor.
âÄúTheyâÄôre going to use the same hiring process that they used to hire Tim Brewster, and we just canâÄôt stand for that any longer,âÄù said Alexandria businessman Steve Nestor, who helped start the group and was a student trainer for the team in 1967.
Doug Kingsriter, an All-American tight end who went on to play for the Vikings, added a complaint that players had little input in BrewsterâÄôs hiring.
âÄúThey werenâÄôt asked,âÄù he said. âÄúThis was done simply by the athletic director and, from what I understand, a very small group of people.âÄù
Maturi, when approached during the teamâÄôs road win over Illinois on Saturday, defended himself without indicting the group.
âÄúI think thereâÄôs some well-intentioned people who donâÄôt know the facts, donâÄôt understand the process and, in my opinion, are harming the efforts to bring the right coach to Minnesota,âÄù he said.
About his capacity to choose a leader, he added: âÄúPeople think because the last hire did not succeed and weâÄôre using the same process, therefore the process failed. The process didnâÄôt fail. The selection didnâÄôt work. Again, if you look around the country, youâÄôre going to see a lot of selections that donâÄôt work.âÄù
Before the Penn State game Oct. 23, the first after BrewsterâÄôs firing, Maturi addressed a group of about 100 former players and said that while heâÄôd welcome suggestions from them, he didnâÄôt think a search committee would be appropriate.
âÄúI can tell you this, it was real clear: YouâÄôre not going to be involved in the process,âÄù Kingsriter said.
Maturi told them, according to multiple sources, that former Gophers star and NFL coach Tony Dungy would act as spokesman for the players, and that suggestions should go through him.
Kingsriter said that was news to him.
âÄúWe love Tony,âÄù Kingsriter said. âÄúI was inducted into the U of M hall of fame with him. I have a high regard for him, but we didnâÄôt vote for him. In other words, it was assigned.âÄù
Kingsriter said he doesnâÄôt speak regularly with Dungy, that he does not even know the best way to contact Dungy and that Dungy hasnâÄôt contacted the group.
He added that, although Maturi invited them via e-mail, most of those who showed up didnâÄôt originally plan to go, but changed their minds to support the current players.
âÄúHe wasnâÄôt able to get that many people to come,âÄù Kingsriter said. âÄúThere were others who we have trust and confidence in who got on the phone and said, âÄòLetâÄôs do this for the players.âÄô We came for the players. I want to make that real clear.âÄù
The groupâÄôs chief goal, Kingsriter said, is to sit down with University President Bob Bruininks and discuss forming a search committee.
 âÄúOur movement is simply an attempt to try and restore some degree of trust in the process,âÄù he said.
The group does not have a single leader, an official member list or a regular meeting schedule.
Members communicate with each other via phone, e-mail and at various functions. A few of them pitched in on the $1,500 ad in the Daily, Kingsriter said.
The groupâÄôs website includes testimonials from a slew of former players, including 1997 co-captain Crawford Jordan, 1974 captain Jeff Selleck and Steve Thompson, a star defensive lineman in the 1980s who now hosts a sports show on WCCO radio.
Neither the website, the ad nor the group members who spoke to the Daily said Maturi should be fired, just that he should not be in charge of the hire.  
Maturi, who said he was âÄúdisappointedâÄù with the ad, mentioned that his door is always open and that he has not turned down a meeting with, or been approached by, any alumni or donors.
He said heâÄôs probably received more public criticism of late than at any point in his career.
 âÄúWe havenâÄôt won in Minnesota in a long time,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúWon, really won. And so as a result, we have to look to ourselves, âÄòWhat can we do better, including former players being more supportive and donating money and buying tickets and doing the things they can do to help us?âÄô âÄù

– Josh Katzenstein contributed to this report.