MINNEAPOLIS – As Joel Maturi conducted a lengthy search for the next face of the Minnesota football program, he had to swallow his pride and give an honest assessment of what has transpired at the school over the last 40 years.
The Golden Gophers haven't won a Big Ten championship since 1967 and haven't been to a Rose Bowl since 1962. They have hired seven full-time coaches, and named one interim coach, since Murray Warmath left in 1971. Not one of them compiled a winning record in the Big Ten.
Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill is the next in a long line of coaches charged with turning around a stagnant program.
Warmath took the team to back-to-back Rose Bowls following the 1960 and '61 seasons and won two Big Ten titles in his 18 seasons on campus. Since his departure, Cal Stoll, Joe Salem, Lou Holtz, John Gutekunst, Jim Wacker, Glen Mason, Tim Brewster and interim coach Jeff Horton went 112-203-3 in Big Ten play.
"That should tell us all something. It ain't easy. And we need to look in the mirror," Maturi said. "I'm the athletic director. I have to find out what I can do better to help this coach. I love what coach Kill says because I think he's accurate. He's not going to do it alone. It's our team. We need to pull together."
Maturi said he's spoken at length with outgoing President Robert Bruininks about what the administration needs to do to put Kill in a better position to succeed than the previous eight coaches. He declined to divulge details, but said the school can do a better job of supporting the football program.
"We need to find a way to change the culture at the University of Minnesota because the fact of the matter is no coach has left here with a winning (Big Ten) record since Murray Warmath," Maturi said. "That's a long time ago, folks."
Kill came off as down-to-earth and genuine in his first press conference and made it clear that he is fully aware of the situation surrounding him. He has a career record of 127-73, including 23-16 in three seasons at Northern Illinois.
He never once mentioned a future trip to the Rose Bowl or a Big Ten title, proclamations that haunted Brewster from Day 1.
"I can give you all those promises and get you fired up, but those are false promises," said Kill, who will make $1.1 million per year with bonuses for academic and athletic performance built in to his five-year deal. "I can promise you this: We'll go through the journey and work hard. And as long we're all together, you'll get the results you want."
Worn down by years of losing, Gophers fans wanted a big-name hire to energize the program, much the way Tubby Smith did for the basketball team. A group of former Gophers football players put together a website called savegopherfootball.com that has been heavily critical of Maturi and the administration.
Former punter Adam Kelly even contacted Temple administrators, saying Maturi could be going after football coach Al Golden without going through the proper channels. The brazen move, which was first reported by the Star Tribune, was accompanied by an ad in the school newspaper requesting that Maturi not be the one to hire the next football coach.
"When I began the process I didn't think the negativity would be what it is," Maturi said. "Who thought there'd be ads in the paper? I didn't learn that in school. It's part of life."
There is also plenty of uncertainty surrounding the administration that hired Kill. Bruininks is retiring at the end of the school year and new President Eric Kaler was consulted before the decision was made. Maturi's contract is up after next year and he hasn't signed an extension offer from Bruininks because he is waiting for a vote of confidence from Kaler.
"I'm at the stage of my career that I don't want to work for president that doesn't want me here," he said. "I'm thankful to President Bruininks for offering that extension, but if the new president has a different vision and plan, I can accept that."
Not exactly the most stable environment for a new coach to enter, but Kill thinks he has plenty of support at Minnesota. He pointed to the 2-year-old TCF Bank Stadium and his conversations with Maturi and Bruininks about the direction of the program as evidence that winning is possible in the Twin Cities.
"We need to be positive," he said. "I'm going to be positive in tough times. We're going to have to pull together. If we can all get in one direction now, there are some special things can happen."