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Gopher Coaches Reflect On Working For Joel Maturi

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(credit: CBS) Mike Max
Mike Max returned to WCCO-TV as a sports reporter and anchor in Apr...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Joel Maturi announced Thursday he is stepping down as the University of Minnesota athletic director at the end of June, when his current contract expires.

The news wasn’t a big a surprise to most. New President Eric Kaler offered Maturi an extension when he came on, but Maturi declined because he wasn’t sure how the relationship would be.

Maturi’s record with hiring high profile coaches was one big subject of debate during his tenure as athletic director. He hired Tim Brewster, then fired him less than four years later. He also gave Don Lucia an extension on his contract after the Gopher hockey team missed the NCAA Tournament two straight years.

Despite some controversy, the coaches that have worked for him consider him a boss who understood. His reputation with the coaching staff he served is fairly consistent. One of Maturi’s biggest accomplishments was merging the men’s and women’s athletic department into one.

“Just with class and integrity and with patience, he really brought the two programs together,” said Meg Stephenson, the Gopher gymnastics coach.

Lucia, like Maturi, grew up on the Iron Range and he was instrumental in his hiring 10 years ago.

“I was actually on the selection committee when he was hired. We felt at the time that he would be a great fit here with his record. Everywhere he had been, he had success and he’s just a classy individual,” Lucia said.

If there is a common thing among University of Minnesota coaches, it is this: What they appreciated most about working for Maturi was just that. He was at one time, like them, a coach.

Gopher men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith appreciated that when he was hired: A boss who had an understanding of the game.

“I think having coached before, he has a real understanding of what coaches go through,” Smith said. “That’s what I’ve always appreciated about Joel.”

Jerry Kill was his last hire, and he may be the one that determines Maturi’s legacy with the public. Kill said he considers that a little extra incentive.

“Now you get a little bit more motivated. I’m going to make sure that we make Joel right. For him to be right, we have to continue to build a program and win.”

Kaler said at a news conference Thursday he fully expects to have a new athletic director in place by July 1, the day after Maturi’s contract expires. A national search with the help of a committee is already underway.

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