The University of Minnesota is looking for a new football coach after firing head coach Tim Brewster on Sunday. It happened after the Gophers' sixth-straight loss on Saturday to Purdue. Offensive Coordinator Jeff Horton will lead the team while the university searches for a new head coach.
University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi spoke with MPR's All Things Considered host Tom Crann about that decision. Maturi hired Brewster, fired him, and is now looking to replace him.
Tom Crann: You extended Tim Brewster's contract just this January. What happened between then and now to change your faith in his ability to lead the Gophers football program?
Joel Maturi: If you really look at the statistics and what we did, coach Brewster had a couple years left on his contract. And in this world of big-time college football, recruits look at those kinds of things. We had what we believed was a very good potential recruiting class come in. I think if you don't give some coaches some security, you often times lose recruits.
The very good news is we did the new contract in a manner that we did not significantly impact the University of Minnesota. Had I waited until the end of this year ... we would owe him $400,000 or more, and the increase of the extra three years on his contract was only going to equate to about $200,000.
I'm not implying that $200,000 is not a lot, but when you talk about million-dollar coaches over several years of the contract, it's not significant. And the money that we put in the recruiting, and the need for us to have a good recruiting base, I think warranted doing what we did last year.
Crann: So it's just that the University of Minnesota pays less money now to terminate him now than at the end?
Maturi: It's not less than at the end, it's just we refigured the contracts that we did not any longer have to pay out the full amount of the contracts.
The agreement now is we only have to pay half of the future years, and so that's why it's only $200,000 versus $400,000 plus per year what it was earlier. We extended it, but we didn't expend it with the full financial obligation of the University of Minnesota. I think we protected ourselves some extent.
We certainly hoped we would win this year. We did not believe that we would be 1-6, but there was a concern and that's why we did the contract in the manner that we did it.
Crann: After the loss at the beginning of the season to South Dakota, Universtiy of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks said: "We need a stronger football program here at the University of Minnesota ... our fans deserve it, and our students, faculty and staff deserve it." Was that when you knew the decision had to be made?
Maturi: No, it wasn't. ... We as a Big Ten team should not lose to that South Dakota team, so my concern came then, but it did not at all mean there was a decision. We still had 10 games left to play and there was obviously hope that we would win some games down the road.
Crann: What kind of person are you going to be looking for to replace Brewster?
Maturi: I believe to coach at a Big Ten school, to coach at a school like the University of Minnesota, there needs to be a particular fit. You need to understand the climate, you need to understand the weather, you need to understand you're coming to a state that doesn't have a lot of great Division I football players within the state.
You're coming to a city that's highly visible from a media standpoint, that's a pro (sports) town in some ways. ... Somebody's going to come in here and has a chance to become a hero. We haven't won here in a long time, haven't won a championship since '67, haven't been to the Rose Bowl since '61, and it's time that we change those statistics.
Crann: Can you talk about who's on your short list at this point?
Maturi: I really can't. ... People who are sitting head coaches can't afford to have their names on the list. ... We have a better timetable this time. Last time we were the last school looking for a new coach, now we're the first school. So we have a head start on others, and I think that will assist us in definitely finding the best person for the University of Minnesota.
Crann: Do you worry about how many chances you have to get it right?
Maturi: I know this is my last chance. I'm nearing the end of my career. I don't know how long it will go, but I'm very, very confident that the person that I hire will be here when I leave. And let's hope that he's here a long, long time. That obviously remains to be seen.
Crann: How much money is the U going to put behind hiring a new coach?
Maturi: It depends on who the coach is. We can't compete with the $4 million coaches, we can't compete with the $3 million institutions. We can't go down that path. It's not the right thing for any institution, and certainly not for the University of Minnesota. We pay Tubby Smith about $1.8 million a year. If we can pay a head basketball coach that, I assume we can pay a head football coach that.
Crann: Is there money there for that?
Maturi: I think it is. ... The reality of it is it will come from the university athletics department, not the university as a whole. ... We will be able to pay our next coach more money than we're paying Coach Brewster.
Crann: On the way out, you said Coach Brewster did some things well, including academic standards. What did he do well and how does he leave the program on the positive side?
Maturi: I think he connected with the high school coaches as well as any previous coach has at the University of Minnesota. I heard from many who said they never had the head coach or even an assistant coach in their schools in Minnesota. They were in every single high school in the state of Minnesota, and I'm proud of that and thankful to Coach Brewster to do that.
I think he's done the same for our alumni -- the people who have played for the Gophers in the past. ... He did a great job of assisting us in raising money for TCF Bank Stadium. His visibility, his passion, his energy were positive and extremely well received.
I talked about the academics -- that we have the highest graduation rate this year that we've ever had in the history of University Minnesota athletics.
(Interview was transcribed and edited by MPR News reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.)