(Photo credit: Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune)
The new Golden Gophers athletic director has several pressing issues that call for strategic intervention. The question of if he has that skill is much more important than if VCU had a football program.
By now you’ve heard that
Jeffrey Tambor Norwood Teague is the Minnesota Golden Gophers new athletic director.
Those in the know called it a first-rate hire; honestly, I didn’t even know his name before it emerged that he was a finalist for the Gophers’ AD position. (In fact, most people that claim they can break down the top 25 athletic directors in the country are probably lying to you.) I can’t say that I know definitively if Teague will be a great hire, but I enjoyed getting to know him through the articles and interviews throughout the process. I was in the middle of a seven-hour drive when his first press conference occurred, so I was able to hear his brief introduction, a radio interview with him and then some other information passed on by a longtime friend who worked with him from time to time in Virginia.
Some of the early criticism came from his previous stop at Virginia Commonwealth University, where they don’t field a football team. (Yes, he worked in administrative roles at the University of North Carolina, Arizona State and the University of Virginia, which all field Bowl Championship Series-level programs.)
“But he’s coming from VCU and they don’t have football!?!” some people whined. Then others compared his experience to overmatched football coach Tim Brewster, which is kind of like saying, “These apples and oranges are both fruit! They are completely alike!”
It’s lazy contrarianism, drafted up at first glance just so a person can add noise to a conversation. It’s like holding up a “Fire Gardenhire” sign or calling for Max Shortell at quarterback last year.
So how can we judge Teague? We know he went to a first-rate sports management program, his resume otherwise seems robust and the people at VCU were sad to see him go. But thinking about the quality that Teague will most need reminds me a lot about Steve Jobs and his reign(s) at Apple.
This isn’t because I think Teague is going to become the black turtlenecked CEO of the Big Ten or that Apple computers are the greatest on Earth. I am not one of the people who mourned Jobs’s death as if he brought world peace across the globe and I don’t mean to literally compare Jobs and Teague.
The comparison most likely popped into my head because I finished Jobs’s biography a few weeks ago.
Steve Jobs was great for Apple (eventually) not because he was an unbelievable computer programmer – Bill Gates’s intelligence in flat-out coding was light years ahead of Jobs’s – and it wasn’t because he held an immense understanding of computer hardware and software. Jobs did, but that isn’t why he was ultimately so influential.
Jobs’s greatest talent was vision. He was a visionary. He was able to create products for people before they realized they even needed them. He figured out how trends moved. Most importantly, he found out how to sell both of those concepts to consumers and his board members.
Norwood Teague’s success won’t be defined by how well he understands the zone blitz or a cover three defense. That isn’t his job.
Teague will be successful if he can properly craft a vision for the University of Minnesota’s athletic department – specifically where and how the program as a whole can grow.
It’s easy to pick out some of the bigger items on his plate: Siebert Field needs renovation/new construction; the student section at Gopher football games more resembles a campus library on a Saturday night; the basketball team needs a new practice facility and no one is quite sure what to do with aging Williams Arena as well as Tubby Smith’s contract extension. (In the interest of brevity, I’m ending the list here, although we could go on much longer.)
Teague predecessor Joel Maturi seemed to waffle on his bigger decisions. He wanted to fire Glen Mason, then he extended his contract. Of course, then he fired him. It was a cycle that happened with a few coaches. (Dan Monson and Tim Brewster come to mind.)
Once Teague crafts a vision, he will need to deliver on it by fundraising and building up the University’s war chest. Rather than presiding over a Bowl Championship Series-level football program, it seems that fundraising, culture building and yes, vision, seem to be charges that echo throughout his experience at VCU.
I’ll take it.