MINNEAPOLIS — Norwood Teague. Tubby Smith. Jerry Kill.
At first glance, they might have little in common besides their somewhat memorable names. Teague is all business. He looks comfortable in a suit, at home behind a podium. So does Smith, to some extent, but he spouts coach-speak and is a bit older and beaten down. And then there’s Kill, with a bald spot and drawl-twang to rival Teague’s and a sheen of forehead sweat suggesting he wants out of that sport coat, out of it now.
But despite it all, the three are united by one thing: they’re all outsiders, at various points in their integration into the Minnesota landscape. They were all hired to revive something, be it a team or a program, and thrown together in the Gophers’ football locker room on Monday, the three got a preview of the relationships they’ll have in coming years. They’ll compete and coordinate, two coaches adjusting to a new director of athletics, but they’ll be best served to remember their common goals.
Although Teague is known most as a basketball AD — he spent six seasons at Virginia Commonwealth University and hired Shaka Smart — he also has a passion for football. He knows that football is the main revenue sport, but he’s aware of the need to properly balance every program’s influence. That should be enough to win him some support from Kill and Smith — to start, at least.
Kill, who’s beginning his second season as the Gophers football coach, said that he’s not troubled by Teague’s lack of recent football experience. He was encouraged by Teague’s statement that he took the Minnesota job in order to get back to football, and he’s confident in Teague’s abilities to guide the athletics department.
“You get it or you don’t,” Kill said. “He gets it. He probably knows as much as what we need to do as I do. He’s probably researched it out. The guy came here on his own and walked around campus for two days. I’d say he’s got some pretty good research.”
Of course, Kill has his list of concerns about the football program that he’ll soon present to Teague, if he hasn’t already. They’re things like retaining coaches and taking care of them, building and maintaining facilities, taking the team to a higher level — nothing unpredictable, and certainly nothing Teague isn’t expecting. He’ll be ready for that conversation, and he has a clear picture of what a commitment to football involves.
“I think it’s acknowledging that’s important,” Teague said. “It’s acknowledging that football can do great things for our university.”
Teague and Kill will start from scratch, but with Smith, Minnesota’s new AD already has a background. Smith served as an assistant at VCU from 1979-86, and through that connection the two have something of a relationship. Whatever Smith knows of Teague, it was enough to make him as excited as he’s been in recent months about the program and its potential.
“I’m fired up,” Smith said. “Let’s put it that way. I’m excited, because I’ve known Norwood for a number of years and he’s been involved in identifying young coaches for a long time. He’s coming from a place where I spent seven years of my life. I know what he’s done for that basketball and athletic program at VCU.”
Part of Smith’s excitement for the hire may stem from his lingering contract talks, which he said in March were close to being finished but would not be completed until after the school hired an AD. Smith is currently finishing the fifth year of a seven-year contract, but he’s said several times that he’d like to remain at Minnesota for the rest of his career. With Teague on board, any questions about his future will likely soon be resolved.
Obviously, Teague will face varying challenges in Kill and Smith, different personalities and rates of progress, different types of requests and demands. The basketball team at least has a winning record; the football program is still working toward that. Smith has found an identity at Minnesota; Kill is still in the process. It’s all that and more that will require Teague to build close relationships with both, something he stressed would be a priority.
And while Teague will have to adjust to the coaches, they too must become accustomed to the new AD. For the first time, they’ll be working for a different man than the one who hired them at Minnesota, though Kill knew that Maturi’s tenure might be limited when he took his job in December 2010. In the end, it will come down to each coach controlling what he can and doing his job, Kill said. The program needs to look forward, and with Teague, it seems poised to do so.
“I think we’ve all kind of jumped in here together, and now we’ve got a full team, and we’ve got to move forward,” Kill said.
If Teague and Smith share that attitude, the ride ahead may be a bit smoother. The obstacles will be no fewer, but they might just be that much easier to overcome.