MINNEAPOLIS — Norwood Teague presented to Minnesota a resume packed with experience in fundraising, marketing and leadership, after six years of mid-major success at Virginia Commonwealth.
President Eric Kaler, who picked Teague to be the new director of Gophers athletics, realized the missing line: running a big-time football program. Kaler addressed the question before it was even asked at a news conference Monday to introduce Teague as the replacement for retiring AD Joel Maturi. But Kaler brushed aside the concern.
"Football is not new to Norwood," he said.
Neither was it Teague's preference to manage an athletics department without a football team. After various roles at Virginia and Arizona State, Teague became associate AD at North Carolina and spent five years there. With reassurance from a conversation with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who encouraged him to take the VCU job, Teague joined the Rams with confidence he'd have another opportunity to eventually oversee the most popular of all the American college sports.
"I wanted to get back to a football job," Teague said.
Starting July 1 he'll have one, pending approval from the university's board of regents, but basketball will actually need more of his attention for now.
Head coach Tubby Smith, heralded at the time as Maturi's best career move, has yet to win an NCAA tournament gave in five seasons here. His contract, with two years remaining, is expected to be reworked soon.
Smith has been pushing for construction of a separate practice facility — the shiny toy almost all of the major programs have these days — from Williams Arena. The Barn, built in 1928, will need to be renovated or replaced someday, too.
"We shouldn't be the last school in the Big Ten without a practice facility," said Smith, who attended the news conference with players Trevor Mbakwe and Austin Hollins. "But I think he's the guy that can sell that dream. He has done it before."
Said Smith: "I'm fired up."
Under Teague, VCU opened a $10 million practice facility for men's and women's basketball and other sports. Head coach Shaka Smart was rewarded with an eight-year contract worth $1.2 million annually after the Rams reached the Final Four in 2011 for the first time in their history. Teague persuaded Smart to stay at VCU, too, after North Carolina State pursued him last year and Illinois went after him last month.
"There's nothing more important to me than close relationships with your coaches," Teague said.
He and Smart were tight enough that Teague's departure wasn't easy.
"He and I have had a tough couple of days. Me leaving certainly has not pleased him but he knows it's a great opportunity for me," Teague said.
Teague will draw a base salary of $400,000, on the low end of the spectrum for Big Ten ADs. He'll be in charge of a 25-sport department, with questions about the long-term viability of some of the nonrevenue-producing teams. When he was at North Carolina, the Tar Heels had 28 varsity sports.
"That was an organizational heartburn," Teague said.
But he said he's committed to maintaining a 25-team lineup. Fundraising is not a task he'll shy away from.
"It's in my wheelhouse, as they say," he said. "It's my strength."
On an incognito visit during Easter weekend, Teague said he canvassed as many people around town as he could to find out what the fans think about and want for Gophers sports, which have enjoyed all kinds of conference and national championships in lower-profile programs but mired in mediocrity where it counts — in the money — in football and men's basketball.
"I have detected a burning desire from Gopher fans for improvement in our athletic department and to operate and to win at a higher level," Teague said.
The North Carolina alumnus, in a southern twang unfamiliar to the elongated-o dialect of the north, spoke smoothly, comfortably and confidently at a podium plopped in the middle of the Gophers' gigantic football locker room at 3-year-old TCF Bank Stadium.
Yet another sign of how important that sport is toward any major college's national profile, bottom line and overall spirit.
"I know Norwood gets it," head coach Jerry Kill said. "That's the best compliment you can give anyone at this level. He understands college athletics and what it's going to take to be successful."
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