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Norwood Teague steps up to Big Ten field as U of M athletic director

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Norwood Teague
New University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague poses for photos with Goldy at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. Monday, April 23, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Newly-named University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague has a record as an aggressive fund-raiser with an eye for talent and an appreciation for academics.

Teague says he will try to boost the Gophers' fortunes, even without a heavyweight football background.

Teague, 46, is taking over for Joel Maturi, who stepped down from the position in February. Teague is currently head of the athletics program at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has been on the college athletics scene for more than 20 years, and athletic director at Virginia Commonwealth for the past six.

His past athletics positions at the University of North Carolina, Arizona State University and University of Virginia emphasize marketing and media.

At a news conference Monday, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler pointed out a reality of Teague's new job when he mentioned Teague's undergraduate major.

"Most significantly, his degree was in political science. And believe me, I can't think of a better background for an academic career for Gopher athletics," Kaler said.

That's because Teague faces a huge array of challenges rooted in people. Football has been lackluster. Gopher attendance at TCF Bank Stadium has been slumping. And critics say fund-raising isn't what it should be.

Norwood Teague
New University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague addresses the media at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. Monday, April 23, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Teague brings a good amount of success, beginning with hiring.

After he tapped the relatively untested Shaka Smart as men's basketball coach at VCU, Smart took the team to its first Final Four last year.  Attendance at Virginia Commonwealth's arena is at an all-time high, and season ticket revenue has doubled under his term.

The VCU athletic annual fund has more than doubled. And Teague campaigned successfully for a $10 million practice facility for basketball programs.

Meanwhile, athletes' graduation rates are at their highest ever. And grade point averages among VCU's athletes are up to 3.0.

Gordon McDougall, VCU's associate vice president for alumni relations, said Teague achieved much of that because of his eye for talent in sports and administration.

"He's a very good judge of people. He hires very good coaches, not only on the court and the field. Shaka is just one example of that," McDougall said. "But he also works with his coaches very effectively to make sure they're involved in the community."

That could be a big strength. Maturi was heavily criticized for his choice of Tim Brewster as head football coach, whom he fired in 2010. Others saw Maturi as not being inclusive enough in his decision making, and not leveraging relationships enough to boost fundraising. 

As impressive as Teague's recent achievements are, however, they were at a much smaller school. VCU's athletics budget is about $20 million — about a quarter the size of the U of M.

And it has no football program.

But Teague said he has worked in football more than any other sport at North Carolina, Arizona State and the University of Virginia.   "At North Carolina when I got there, there were a lot of atmosphere challenges around football and I was heavily involved in that," Teague said. "Also involved in fundraising around football, involved with coaches, even touched recruiting. So I've been there. I've been around it heavily. And I'm confident. I'm ready to roll here at Minnesota."

Former University of Minnesota Men's Athletic Director Mark Dienhart said lack of a heavyweight football pedigree isn't necessarily a problem, especially for someone of Teague's accomplishments.

But it does pose a challenge, as does moving from VCU up to a much larger stage.

"Football: Again, that's why it's such a special thing. It creates the most revenue-generating opportunity and it's the most expensive sport," Dienhart said. "So here's somebody who's going into a situation where they're managing more people. They're managing a much bigger budget. And they're in the Big Ten."

However, he said, it's not that unusual for Division I programs to make hires such as this.

When Teague starts his five-year contract July 1, he'll earn a base salary of $400,000, not including perks and benefits. That compares with his predecessor Maturi's 2008 base salary of $345,000.

The university's Board of Regents still must approve Teague's appointment. The Board is scheduled to meet in May.