Teague has energy and enthusiasm to rebuild

MINNEAPOLIS — Norwood Teague relies on gut feelings.

On Monday, it was a gut feeling that led him to take the job as Minnesota’s newest director of athletics. Three years ago, another such feeling was the reason he hired Shaka Smart as Virginia Commonwealth University’s basketball coach, a decision that’s already garnered two NCAA tournament bids and a Final Four appearance for the Rams.

It’s no wonder Teague trusts his instincts, but really, his decisions have been more complex than he’s made them out to be. With Smart, there were countless phone calls to everyone from coaches to beat writers, all of whom vouched for his reputation. With Minnesota, there was a two-day personal trip over Easter weekend — before he was even an official candidate for the job — during which Teague wandered the campus, asking questions to anyone he could find about the program and the school.

Those were more than just gut feelings. They were decisions guided by instinct and backed up with copious research, with questions and visits and conversations, and Norwood Teague has a good idea of what he’s in for.

Teague, 46, served as the director of athletics at VCU for nearly six years before accepting the position at Minnesota — pending approval by the board of regents — on Monday. Before his stint at VCU, Teague was associate athletics director at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina, and general manager of the Sun Devil Sports Network at Arizona State University. Prior to that, he also served first as director of marketing and then as director of operations for the men’s basketball team at the University of Virginia.

While at VCU, Teague worked to increase the school’s athletic fund by more than 119 percent. He was responsible for hiring both Smart and the previous men’s basketball coach, Anthony Grant, and saw the Rams secure NCAA tournament bids in four of his six years at VCU.

“Norwood is the real deal and a true professional,” University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler said Monday. “He has a vast and deep knowledge of college athletics administration and marketing experience.”

Experience was key in Minnesota’s decision to hire Teague, experience that does — he and Kaler cannot emphasize this enough — include 13 years working with FBS football programs. Despite his previous school’s lack of football, Teague loves working with the sport, and Teague admitted that VCU’s lack of a football program was something that he weighed heavily before taking that job. In fact, one of the main reasons he decided to accept the position at Minnesota was to get back to a football school, which he said was a dream come true.

But that focus on football will not come at the expense of the university’s 24 other sports, and Teague knows what it’s like to balance a large number of programs. At North Carolina, he dealt with 28 different sports, and he’s aware of the intricacies of sustaining and supporting so many athletes.

“I’m extremely confident that he’s fully equipped and has the capacity and then some to manage our entire athletics program, from football to softball and from rowing to wrestling,” Kaler said.

Besides his admitted preference to be at a football school, Teague cited several additional reasons he decided to take the job at Minnesota. Highest among those was its location in a major metropolitan area, something he’s familiar with from time spent at Arizona State and to some extent VCU. Despite the greater competition for donations and sponsorships in large cities, Teague said the university’s location is a great atmosphere for fundraising. It will take hard work to raise money, but Teague assured the crowd on Monday that he has the tenacity to do it.

He also pointed out the massive untapped potential that a city like Minneapolis holds as far as fans and their involvement with the school’s athletics. When so many alumni live within a close radius, things like boosting attendance and donations can come more easily.

“It’s such a passionate backyard here at the University of Minnesota, 260,000-some-odd alums in the area,” Teague said. “There’s a lot of people that need to be coming to our games that maybe don’t. There’s a lot of people who could support us financially who probably are not right now.”

Teague cited fundraising as what he enjoys most about the job, calling it his wheelhouse. That’s the key to improving a program that he says isn’t broken, but definitely needs help. In doing so, Teague will likely work closely with current director of athletics Joel Maturi, who will step down from the position on June 30 and remain at the university to raise funds, teach and assist Teague with his transition.

Right now, Teague’s primary concerns are likely to build the relationships and make the inroads necessary to take over on July 1. But he’s already thinking in concrete terms about what the university needs most. Chief among those needs are its facilities, he said, which must reflect that Minnesota plays in the powerful Big Ten conference. He’ll come up with a master facilities plan within the next year, he said, and he hopes to improve facilities that aren’t up to the standard set by the football stadium. It will involve money and planning, but Teague has done all of that before, and now that he’s on a bigger platform than he was at VCU, he’s ready to use it.

“If you have big dreams, you have to attract big donors, and that’s what we need to do,” Teague said.

For a program that’s had its share of struggles in recent seasons, an outsider like Teague was the right hire. He has the energy and enthusiasm to rebuild, and after what he did at VCU, he’s no doubt riding a wave of confidence borne from success. Where others might see Minnesota’s obstacles, Teague has a different perspective; he sees everything the school hasn’t achieved and believes that it can.

“I think Minnesota athletics in the next five or 10 years has an unbelievable opportunity for dramatic growth, and I think the ceiling is very high,” Teague said. “Why do I say that? Well, first of all, there’s incredible support and incredible interest in this athletic program. I feel it, and I hear it.”

Of course he does. After a solid hire like Teague, it’s easy to see the upsides and opportunities. But eventually, reality will set in, and Teague will have to find his Minnesota equivalent of Shaka Smart — not necessarily a coach, but something that will spur this program toward growth and improvement.

One can only hope he continues to trust his gut.

Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.