Grueling coaching search is nothing new for Maturi

The 65-year-old athletics director had to search far and wide for what he called “the last football coach I’ll ever hire.”

Josh Katzenstein

Joel Maturi doesnâÄôt sleep very much.

The Minnesota athletics director of eight-plus years asserts that his REM cycle conundrum has nothing to do with a recent 51-day search to find the next Gophers football coach, a hunt that concluded Sunday when his office announced the signing of Jerry Kill to a five-year contract worth at least $1.1 million per year.

Nor does MaturiâÄôs sleep deprivation spawn from what he said is âÄúprobably the most publicâÄù criticism heâÄôs received in the position as many questioned whether he would find an apt replacement for Tim Brewster, whom he fired Oct. 17.

âÄúIâÄôve always been a four-hour guy,âÄù Maturi, 65, said of his sleep pattern that didnâÄôt change due to the search.

âÄúIâÄôve always been a fighter; IâÄôve always been a competitor. I knew the job that was at hand and knew the importance of the decision and realized that itâÄôs the last football coach IâÄôll ever hire.âÄù

MaturiâÄôs contract runs out in 2012, and he said he has no plans to sign an extension offer from University President Bob Bruininks. Bruininks hired Maturi in July 2002, and when he retires next summer, Eric Kaler will become MaturiâÄôs new boss. The two have met only once, and in that recent meeting they didnâÄôt discuss future plans, Kaler said.

âÄúI donâÄôt want to be here if the boss doesnâÄôt want me to be here,âÄù Maturi told the Minnesota Daily on Nov. 13 at IllinoisâÄô Memorial Stadium while he watched the Gophers upset the Illini, their first win since Sept. 2.

KalerâÄôs immediate reaction to KillâÄôs hiring is that âÄúheâÄôs a very good pick,âÄù he said. Maturi and Bruininks asked for KalerâÄôs input on the search, but Kaler said he had faith in their process.

The current Stony Brook provost and vice president used the phrases âÄúgreat integrity,âÄù âÄúcenteredâÄù and âÄúvery high qualityâÄù to describe Maturi in a phone interview this week. Kaler admits, though, he hasnâÄôt had a chance to âÄúreally get to know him.âÄù

Others have had plenty of opportunity to form an opinion of Maturi, and some have gone to great lengths to make those feelings public knowledge.

SaveGopherFootball.com, a group consisting of boosters and former Gophers players, paid for two full-page ads in the Daily that expressed discontent and a lack of confidence in the AD.

After learning of KillâÄôs hiring, one of those players, former defensive end Ben Williams, told the Daily, âÄúThatâÄôs not what I wanted to hear.âÄù

âÄúCriticism comes with the territory in a job like his or like mine,âÄù Kaler said of the growing vilification of Maturi. âÄúYou expect to see that, particularly if a team thatâÄôs as visible as the football team isnâÄôt having a lot of success right now on the field.âÄù

The turmoil surrounding the football program never swayed KalerâÄôs desire to be the UniversityâÄôs next president, he said.

And the negativity around Maturi and the program actually may have hurt the GophersâÄô shot at a bigger name than Kill.

âÄúI believe some people withdrew because of the negativity,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI donâÄôt know how it could help.âÄù

Maturi interviewed âÄúmanyâÄù candidates for the vacant coaching position, but would only wryly name three people to whom he made offers âÄî Tony Dungy, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez and GophersâÄô menâÄôs basketball coach Tubby Smith.

Asked if the process was difficult, Maturi said: “I donâÄôt know if the word’s difficult. It wasnâÄôt fun, so there’s a different use of words there. I know who I am; I know what my job is. I’ll keep doing it to the best of my ability as hard as I can, and I think you have to stay true to your own values and stay true to what you think is important here at the University of Minnesota and I think I can honestly say I did that.”

After firing Brewster, he said he was looking for a current BCS coach, by which he meant to say one who leads an automatic qualifier (six conferences are guaranteed a BCS Bowl berth). Every Football Bowl Championship team has a chance to play in a BCS Bowl, and Boise StateâÄôs Chris Petersen, like Kill, doesnâÄôt fall into that description. However he said it, Maturi wants those words back, even if he is thrilled about Kill and the future of the football program.

âÄúI wish I had those words back,âÄù he said. âÄúThatâÄôs somebody saying more than he should and speaking loud. I knew from day one there was not going to be a BCS coach at the University of Minnesota, a successful BCS coach.âÄù

Dungy didnâÄôt fit all of the parameters desired by Maturi, either, because he isnâÄôt a sitting college coach. Neither were the coordinators or professional coaches âÄî reportedly Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and CFL coach Marc Trestman âÄî he acknowledged interviewing along the way.

But Maturi wanted to cover all his bases in finding the best fit, which he said is Kill. To do that, Maturi said he talked to every FBS AD who made a coaching change in the last two years to see who else they considered. Among those ADs was Notre DameâÄôs Jack Swarbrick, who hired Brian Kelly in December 2009. Kelly previously worked at Central Michigan, a Mid-American Conference program like Northern Illinois where Kill worked, before moving onto Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

MaturiâÄôs previous job was as AD for MAC school Miami (Ohio) from 1998 to 2002, but those conference ties didnâÄôt play into the decision to hire Kill. Maturi knows that some coaches have faltered after moving up from the mid-major, but others have had outstanding careers.

Ohio StateâÄôs Woody Hayes and MichiganâÄôs Bo Schembechler both coached at Miami before moving into Big Ten roles they held for more than 20 years.

âÄúThe reality is there are no guarantees,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúThere has not been a coach here at the University of Minnesota whoâÄôs left here with a winning Big Ten record since Murray Warmath (who retired in 1971).

âÄúThatâÄôs seven full-time coaches. That should tell us all something. It ainâÄôt easy.âÄù

Neither is running a 25-sport athletics department and keeping it in the black, which Maturi has come close to doing most years, though heâÄôs been hampered by paying buyouts after firing football coach Glen Mason and menâÄôs basketball coach Dan Monson.

Still, some might remember Maturi for his greatest hire in Smith, a coach who came to Minnesota from Kentucky with a national title under his belt.

âÄúItâÄôs great. ItâÄôs great,âÄù Smith said of his relationship with Maturi. âÄúI think heâÄôs one of the best ADs in the country.âÄù

Whenever Maturi is done, whether by his decision or KalerâÄôs, heâÄôd prefer to be remembered by what his student-athletes accomplished, like a school-record 71 percent graduation rate last year.

âÄúForget legacies. I never talk about legacies,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúThis has never been about me, and when I retire weâÄôre going to have a little party at Campus Pizza.âÄù