Big Ten football: Minnesota AD, a Madison native, believes Kill can turn things around

2011-11-09T07:15:00Z 2011-11-27T03:04:10Z Big Ten football: Minnesota AD, a Madison native, believes Kill can turn things aroundANDY BAGGOT | abaggot@madison.com | 608-252-6175 madison.com

There's a good deal of crisis management going on in the Big Ten Conference these days, something Joel Maturi knows something about.

The Minnesota athletic director may not have the pulverizing agendas on display at Penn State or Ohio State — an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse by a former football assistant and major NCAA rules violations, respectively — but Maturi could argue his crisis has had a much longer shelf life.

Maturi is in his 10th year as AD and he's on his third football coach, a fifth losing season overall and his eighth straight year in which the Gophers have failed to muster a winning record in league play.

A beautiful new on-campus football facility has been built on Maturi's watch, but he also fired his first hand-picked football coach — taking the rare step to do so midseason — and is watching a painful rebuilding project unfold under first-year coach Jerry Kill.

Minnesota is last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense, first downs, turnover margin and sacks heading into its milestone Border Battle meeting Saturday with the University of Wisconsin at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

While 16th-ranked UW looks to win its eighth straight game in the most-played rivalry in Football Bowl Subdivision history — 120 meetings to date going back to 1890 — the Gophers are trying to salvage what they can from a season that includes a 58-point loss to Michigan and a home setback to Football Championship Subdivision entry North Dakota State.

Maturi, a former UW Athletic Department administrator and coach at Madison Edgewood High School, said advice he's gathered from peers and mentors over the years has come in handy.

"You have to stay the course," he said. "You just can't let that get to you because then the negativity wins."

Maturi has been pounded regularly by the Twin Cities media for his body of work as it relates to the football coach.

He fired Glen Mason, the coach he inherited, following the 2006 season even though the Gophers played in seven bowl games, winning three, in his 10 years.

Maturi hired Tim Brewster, a former NFL assistant whose skills as a salesman proved far greater than his abilities as a coach, and that blew up when Maturi fired Brewster seven games into last season with a career record of 15-30.

Maturi, renowned for his sincerity and work ethic, subsequently hired Kill away from Northern Illinois, a move that didn't quite fulfill Maturi's intent to hire a big-name coach.

The Gophers have been in crisis mode all season. Not only did they lose three of four non-conference games and open Big Ten play 0-3, Kill has had two seizures, including one on the sidelines in the final seconds of a 28-21 loss to New Mexico State. Both landed Kill, who has battled kidney cancer, in the hospital.

Maturi made daily visits to see Kill and serve as a conduit to his players. Maturi said it comes with the territory.

"I know how hard I work," Maturi said. "I know that my heart's in the right place. I know I'm doing as much homework as I can to make the decisions that I have to make.

"You think it over, do what you're supposed to do and do it to the best of your ability. It just occupies you. Then you go home and you worry about it."

Kill, who reconditioned four programs before landing with the Gophers, has been outspoken about the lack of toughness and talent while trying to address widespread academic deficiencies in the program. Maturi believes so strongly in Kill that, last month, he added two years to his seven-year contract.

It looks like progress is being made, though. Minnesota stunned Iowa 22-21 two weeks ago and pushed Michigan State, the front-runner in the Legends Division, to the brink before dropping a 31-24 decision on the road last week.

Maturi said Kill is in the process of changing the culture of the program "which needs to be done, beginning with the team and getting them to believe."

Maturi compared that process to the one he saw at UW in the early 1990s when Barry Alvarez put down the foundation on which three Big Ten titles and three Rose Bowl wins were built.

Kill has two distinct advantages Alvarez didn't have upon his arrival — better facilities and a coaching staff that has a combined 94 years of experience working with him — and counts Maturi as an asset.

"We've been the same too long and we've got to do some things differently and those are the things we're working on right now," Kill said. "It's a lot of hard work, but Joel's certainly been a part of that."

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