Thursday, January 3, 2008

Year In Review: Lightning Strikes For Maturi

At this time one year ago, Minnesota basketball fans didn't have much to cheer about. The Dan Monson era had ended with a thud. And that was actually OK considering the Clem Haskins era ended in shame.

After a disappointing season in 2006, I was one of those disgruntled University of Minnesota alums who wrote to Joel Maturi asking him to relieve Dan Monson of his duties. I cited what I saw as a lack of growth in our players' development and an inability to recruit at a level needed to compete in the Big Ten, among other things. Maturi offered a professional response, and despite rumors to the contrary, decided to give Dan Monson one last try. In hindsight, giving Monson one more bite at the proverbial apple worked out wonderfully even if it seemed misguided at the time.

After a team-worst 9-22 season, lightning struck for Maturi. He landed the biggest fish in the pond, and quieted those clamoring for someone like Rick Majerus or Flip Saunders. Other names on the list to replace Monson at the time were Sean Miller of Xavier or Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois. Both might have been great hires, but they didn't have the name cachet that Smith had and they certainly wouldn't have provided the U with a "shot in the arm."

Tubby Smith had just completed a not-good-enough season at Kentucky, where his Wildcats had failed to make it to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season. As all of us have now learned, that's simply not acceptable in the Bluegrass State, even if the coach in question had won a national title. Tubby Smith wanted out of UK. UK's rabid fans wanted a new start of their own. And Joel Maturi had an opening at the right place at the right time.

It's my belief that a strange set of circumstances led to Tubby Smith coming to the University of Minnesota. The STrib's Grandpa Sid reported at the time that the process to land Smith began just a few short weeks before the announcement was made in late March. And the benefactors of those circumstances are those of us who bleed maroon and gold and Maturi himself.

All of that said, the hire of Tubby Smith was a great one, if it was completely inconceivable at the time. And it was the brightest moment of 2007 for University of Minnesota fans. And that's saying something considering game results are usually more exciting than introductory press conferences.

So, if it's fair game to criticize Maturi for the poor timing of the dismissal of Glen Mason and the subsequent rushed search for a football coach, it's certainly reasonable to give our plaudits to Maturi for landing Tubby Smith. Great hire, Joel.


Friend Of Tubby said...

I got my first clue Tubby might be leaving UK back in Fall of 2006.

A friend of mine builds High End ($$$) swimming pools for $$$ folks in Northern and Central KY. He was supposed to build one for Tubby and Donna in Sept or Oct 2006.

He called Donna to set a date for the pool. She then cancelled the order, telling him We're Moving.

She was right. They know 6 months before the rest of us found out.

PJS said...

The way things were unfolding in Kentucky, that doesn't surprise me. But I doubt they knew at that time their destination was to be the frozen tundra of Minnesota.

Friend Of Tubby said...

I don't think they knew that until March 2007.

alex said...

Even after the start to this season, I'm still amazed Tubby chose to come here. He was exactly what this program needed: a coach who could get the team back to the top/middle of the Big 10, had a good track record as a humanitarian, and a big name to get the fans excited and back into the seats. I'm convinced Tubby was the perfect hire, and can't think of anyone else that would have been a better fit both for our program at the time. Maturi definitely hit a homerun here, and probably saved his job with it.

PJS said...

Alex, you touched on something I neglected to include in the post. Tubby is known as a humanitarian and is also known as someone who runs a clean program. His reputation in this regard is unchallenged, a fact that makes his hire all the more important considering the U's recent history.

Mark said...

I do hope that Maturi learns from the Tubby experience so that if Brewster doesn't work out, he takes his time hiring a replacement.

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