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Minnesota AD Maturi to step down after 10 years at helm

MINNEAPOLIS — University of Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi will leave his post when his contract expires this summer.

School officials and the 67-year-old Maturi announced his retirement Thursday at a late morning news conference.

President Eric Kaler said he and Maturi spoke for several months and decided it’s “simply the right time for Joel to retire.”

The news conference was held at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers moved in 2009 after 28 seasons off campus and indoors at the Metrodome. The securing of public money and private donations to build the first new football stadium by a Big Ten school in a half-century was arguably the greatest success during Maturi’s 10 years in charge.

Hired to help merge separate men’s and women’s departments in 2002, Maturi, a native of Chisholm, Minn., had to sort through plenty of contention and dysfunction on the heels of a scandal and subsequent NCAA violations that jolted both the men’s and women’s basketball programs. He was often praised for the way he guided the players, coaches and staff for 25 varsity sports through the transition.

Maturi spearheaded successful efforts to save the men’s and women’s golf and men’s gymnastics teams during a budget crunch early in his tenure, and was a tireless supporter of every squad from basketball to swimming, putting in long hours, attending all kinds of games and events. Just last year he showed up at work the day after surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee.

But he became the target of frustration and criticism of angst-filled Gophers fans, who have watched the football program struggle through the last decade. Coach Glen Mason had some decent teams, but Maturi fired him after the 2006 season, a year after giving him a contract extension, and picked Tim Brewster to replace him. The first-time head coach never fulfilled his bombastic, lofty promises and was fired at midseason in 2010. Maturi hired Jerry Kill as his successor, and while Kill has been praised for his attitude and his work ethic the Gophers went 3-9 in his first year.

Maturi kept Dan Monson as the men’s basketball coach through a series of mediocre seasons until dismissing him in November 2006. Maturi then persuaded Tubby Smith to leave Kentucky and come to Minnesota in March 2007, still arguably his most remarkable move as AD, but even Smith has yet to produce an NCAA tournament victory in his time with the Gophers.

Whether it was Mason, Brewster, Monson or Smith, the most prevalent criticism from the ticket-buying and game-watching public toward Maturi was his patience with coaches of underperforming major sports. He never apologized for that, either, placing greater priority on the academic record of those teams and integrity with which the programs were run. Maturi, in an interview with the AP last year, acknowledged the difficult of balancing those ideals with the big business of major college sports.

In that interview, he acknowledged keeping Monson around longer than he probably should have, recalling a conversation with then-President Robert Bruininks, who asked him if he believed Monson could become a consistent winner and NCAA tournament contender with the Gophers.

“You know what I told him? I said no,” Maturi said. “I thought the hole was so deep that he couldn’t get out of it. So he said, ‘Well, why don’t you fire him?’ I said, ‘Because if I did, I’d be sending the message to every one of our coaches that it’s only about winning.’ Dan took over in a difficult situation. He did get the kids to go to class. He didn’t cheat. He did all the things that were right, but he didn’t win enough. Eventually I had to dismiss him.”

Maturi in 2008 signed a contract extension that increased his annual salary to $345,000.