Maturi has many Wisconsin connections
University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi spoke in Hudson March 5 before members of the Hudson Daybreak Rotary Club.
Maturi, a Chisholm, Minn., native, actually spent nearly three decades of his life in Wisconsin, which included a stint as high school football coach of the late Chris Farley of television and movie fame.
Before entering the college ranks, Maturi spent 19 years as a high school coach and administrator at Madison Edgewood High School. He coached football, basketball, baseball and track and field, leading his teams to 10 state tournaments. Maturi was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
It was at Edgewood where Maturi coached Farley.
"If you are familiar with Farley's Matt Foley motivational speaker character -- that's me," Maturi said jokingly. "He was making fun of me."
In 1987, Maturi made the jump to the Big Ten when he went to work for the University of Wisconsin.
"I didn't think I'd leave Edgewood," Maturi said. "I was having a great career, but I knew a few people at the university and they called and wondered if I'd be interested in coming to Wisconsin and helping with some administrative duties.
"To be honest with you, I was at the right place at the right time. It is unheard of for a person to jump from high school to a Division 1 athletic department."
He said the Wisconsin sports department was struggling at the time and there was not much money available so they offered Maturi a position.
Shortly after Maturi was hired, Wisconsin began to turn the program around.
"They hired Pat Richter as athletic director and Donna Shalala as chancellor," Maturi said. "Donna Shalala, by the way, was probably the biggest reason for Wisconsin's turnaround in athletics. She wanted athletics to succeed, and that's when people like Barry Alvarez and Dick Bennett were hired to get the football and basketball programs off the ground."
He said the same revival can come at Minnesota.
"Wisconsin is an example of why it can be done at Minnesota," Maturi said. "We have a president (Robert Bruininks) who is similar to Donna Shalala. Both believe that academics are the first priority, but that athletics can bring visibility to the university and bring more money for academics, research and the classroom.
"Right or wrong, athletics is a big part of our culture. I know it seems out of whack sometimes. For instance, everybody can identify Tubby Smith as our basketball coach, but who can name the University of Minnesota Nobel Prize winner from last year (Leonid Hurwicz)? Or, who even knew we had a Nobel Prize winner?"
Maturi stayed at the University of Wisconsin until 1996. During his tenure, he advanced to the position of associate director of athletics. Maturi was named the Wisconsin Sports Person of the Year in 1993.
Maturi then spent two years as athletic director at the University of Denver.
That move generated another story that goes back to Wisconsin. Maturi and current Badger basketball coach Bo Ryan were finalists for the head coaching position at UW-Platteville. The position went to Ryan who guided the Pioneers to eight conference titles and four NCAA III national titles (1991, 1995, 1998 and 1999).
Before that, Ryan was an assistant at Wisconsin and became good friends with Maturi.
"When I went to Denver, they were making the move from Division 2 to Division 1," Maturi said. "I hired Bo Ryan."
The move, however, was rejected by Denver's administration.
"Since they were going to D-1, the chancellor didn't think it was appropriate that I hire a coach out of Division 3."
From Denver, Maturi became the athletic director at the University of Miami-Ohio. Maturi said he told the University of Miami-Ohio's president that he would only leave if he had the chance to be the athletic director at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Notre Dame (his alma mater) or the University of Minnesota.
Maturi started his job at the University of Minnesota on Aug. 2, 2002.
Maturi said he never would have dreamed that Tubby Smith would be interested in coaching at Minnesota.
"I fired Dan Monson Nov. 30 (2006) and by Dec. 3 I was contacting people about potential coaches and two people told me that Tubby Smith might be ready to leave Kentucky. I wrote his name on a list."
As is the procedure in today's basketball world, the search process was turned over to a firm in Atlanta.
"I asked the fellow at the search firm, 'Would Tubby Smith be interested,'" Maturi said. "His response was, 'I can find out.'"
We found out later that Tubby was interested in leaving Kentucky and when he found out Minnesota might be interested, he called Clem Haskins (former Gopher coach). Clem told him Minnesota would be a great place for him."
On March 23, 2007, it was announced that Smith was the Gophers' new head basketball coach.
"We are moving in the right direction," Maturi said. "We've got our new football stadium under construction and that will bring football back onto the campus. Nobody does it better than Madison and I think we can do the same thing here."
He said the Gopher athletic budget has been balanced in recent years, except for last year.
"Some athletic director fired both a basketball coach and football coach in a month leaving a couple of big buyouts," Maturi quipped.
He is confident, however, that the Gopher program is headed in the right direction and expects Minnesota to be a force in Big Ten athletics in the near future.
He credits his early career at Madison Edgewood for teaching him about what's important in life.
"At Edgewood, I learned about leadership, family and service," Maturi said. "I learned the same lessons you learn and practice in Rotary; the world needs you more today than ever."