The Gophers new athletics director Norwood Teague is halfway through his first semester as a Big Ten AD. It’s time to see how he chalks up in his first Midterm Report Card.
The fundraising guru from Virginia Commonwealth University has faced adversity in the forms of poor football ticket sales, scrutiny for an $800,000 buyout in a cash-strapped department and two DUI arrests just months apart in the basketball program.
These hurdles have taken Teague out of his fundraising chair and into damage control mode – a situation he’s not used to. But it hasn’t stopped him from bringing in the money, either.
Arguably, there are five categories that are essential to an athletics director’s job in 2012.
Departmental Control: C
The 46-year-old Teague is a bachelor. He lives to work and his department has provided him enough of it in the form of crisis management.
Teague wasn’t even a month into his job when the basketball program’s star forward was arrested July 1 on suspicion of drunken driving. New in the chair, Teague opted to let sixth-year coach Tubby Smith make the decision on how to punish Trevor Mbakwe. Seeing as Mbakwe just played 11 minutes in Thursday’s opening exhibition at Williams Arena – the “undisclosed requirements” Smith had said Mbakwe needed to complete were anything but severe for a 23-year-old who’s had multiple run-ins with the law. It’s no leap of faith to say that Mbakwe was only limited on Thursday because he’s still nursing a bad knee in which he tore his ACL last season.
Assistant coach and Tubby’s son, Saul Smith, was also arrested on suspicion of drunken driving the night after Mbakwe was sentenced to two more years of probation. Teague took charge by saying “In the end…It’s my call.” Yet, in the end, Saul Smith was only on unpaid leave for five days and will rejoin the team on Nov. 13 – missing only two regular season games. Teague said Tubby was “too close to the situation” to make the decisions (I’ve been punished tougher by my father for doing much, much less.)
Teague came under fire for canceling a University of North Carolina home-and-home series for the football program – a request by coach Jerry Kill that cost the program $800,000. Keep in mind, the athletics department borrowed $1.6 million from the University this year to break even on its budget. As a department leader, it’s Teague’s responsibility to make the tough decisions. But in his early stages as a Big Ten AD, he opted to listen to his second-year coach (who’s also just as new in the Big Ten) and ducked a mediocre opponent for an exorbitant price tag. I’m assuming Kill knows very little about managing 25 sports in a break-even department and if I had to venture a guess, Teague would do it all differently after the criticism he garnered for it.
Teague’s supposed to be the decision maker – and he’s deferred more tough decisions than he’s made so far.
Public Transparency: B-
Teague’s predecessor, Joel Maturi, was a man of the people. On any given night, Maturi could be found watching a women’s hockey game at Ridder Arena, or a Gophers tennis match at the Baseline Tennis Center.
But Minnesota wanted a business man; one that knew where his time was most valuable — cue Teague.
The man named Norwood hasn’t been as publicly visible as Joel, which is something the athletics department is aiming for. Gophers’ spokesman Garry Bowman said Teague’s voice holds more clout the less he uses it in the media.
Teague has been visible in the media, but it’s been in response to jabs he’s received from his decisions.
The Gophers AD wrote an Op/Ed in the Star Tribune explaining, in length, his choice to cancel the UNC series. Teague writes: “As athletics director of the state’s most visible public university, I will make decisions not everyone agrees with.”
His decision was to listen to Kill and I’m still a believer that Gophers fans will appreciate Teague making his own decisions instead of spinning Kill’s decision as his own.
Teague also sent out a “talking points” email to 300-or-so of the top movers-and-shakers in the football program. The email listed out several bullet points that Teague wanted these boosters to spread around to defend his decision.
Despite the faults, Teague has owned up to his choices. He has faced the media and called press conferences before anyone could get a jump on him.
However, he has still focused more time behind donors’ doors than out in the spotlight. To his credit, he has to approach donors because Minnesota is not an Ohio State: he has to go to them, they won’t come to him.
The Bottom Line: A-
This is Teague’s bread and butter. Minnesota hired him because they needed to get out of the red and into the black. It’s a slow process by all measures, but Teague is lucky to be in the Big Ten with Big Ten television contracts and revenue sharing. He has a base to work from – and he’s done a good job with it.
In September, Teague held the Golden Gopher Fund’s seventh-annual wine dinner. In only his third month on the job, Teague set a wine dinner record by netting a total of $217,750 in a single fundraiser. The money was allocated to student-athlete scholarships and rightfully so – the Gophers are one of a few Big Ten programs that can’t endow their scholarships, which is tough when tuition keeps increasing and thus the value of each scholarship goes up.
Teague has also been working on getting a big-name donor for a much-needed men’s basketball practice facility. The Gophers are the only team in the Big Ten without one and rumors circulate that alumnus and mogul T. Denny Sanford has said he wants to look at an in-depth design and would consider dropping a multi-million dollar amount.
The only knock on Teague’s financial handlings was the UNC decision that cost his department half of the $1.6 million loan it got from the University.
Teague said the $800,000 fee is “a hit financially,” but he doesn’t seem to realize that the Tar Heels hit softer than those hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Student Engagement: B
When Joel Maturi was athletics director, he prided himself on knowing as many of the 750 student athletes names as he could remember. It’s hard to imagine Teague shaking hands and seeing how the University’s rowing athletes are doing, but a part of fundraising is being personable.
Teague has had multiple dinners where select student athletes are invited – revenue sport or not – but the most interaction he’s had with students in general has been to promote and give away football tickets. Back in September, Teague could be found the Friday before a non-conference game on campus handing out hundreds of free football tickets. Don’t be fooled, his attempt to engage students is still tied to his bottom line. His staff wouldn’t allow it if it wasn’t. But Teague has a major problem right here on his own campus and that’s filling a 10,000-seat student section at TCF Bank Stadium.
Teague has had enough people vying for his attention but he has made an honest attempt at spending time with student-athletes and university students in general, enough to earn a B.
Moving Forward: A-
Teague’s first step towards a long-term plan in the Gopher’s department was to create a “Facilities Master Plan.” Minnesota picked POPULOUS, a design firm, to help speculate on what the department’s infrastructure needs are. Teague said the plan should be ready by this spring and he already has got plan for a $50-60 million football facility that would possibly include renovations to the Bierman Athletics Complex. It is reported that the renovations could include underground parking, a new weight room, indoor practice field and more offices.
Teague’s main goal is still a men’s basketball practice facility in which he needs to find a big-dollar donor.
Tubby Smith’s contract, while it was mainly crafted under Joel Maturi, was signed by Teague and his administration. Smith only gained a three-year extension solely for recruiting purposes, but moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see how Teague reacts to Smith’s success – or lack of – this season. He’ll have some decisions to make on that end soon.
In his six months on the job, Teague has also made some administrative changes that will make him more comfortable moving forward. To the chagrin of some donors, Teague fired associate ADs Regina Sullivan and Jason LaFrenz to make room for his two boys from VCU: David Benedict and Mike Ellis.
This is nothing new. When there is a change in the director position, the director often wants to bring in his or her own vision and people.
It is worth noting that football ticket sales are a problem and LaFrenz’s main duties were marketing and sales. Sullivan was in charge of women’s sports and basketball operations and it has been reported that Teague will be looking to hire a senior women’s administrator in the next two months.
Teague has made the necessary moves to make it a comfortable environment around him and he should see long-term success at Minnesota.
Overall Grade: B-
Teague has had a rough stretch of luck in his first semester as Minnesota’s AD. The DUI mishaps weren’t his fault, but controlling them was. He couldn’t necessarily step in and tell Tubby what to do with his players, but he could have advised that the punishments be made more severe.
Teague needs to be more aware of the public perception of his decisions.
How could it possibly look good to have Mbakwe playing in the first exhibition game of the season after a September DUI conviction that was also his third run-in with the law?
Then he slaps Tubby’s son, Saul, on the wrist for a similar DUI. Teague said he was “going to hold this department to a higher standard.”
Well, we’re still waiting on that.
But Teague’s fundraising prowess and long-term strategies have looked impressive out of the gate and only time will tell if these recent mishaps are bumps in the road or a sign of things to come.