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Assessing Joel Maturi’s time as U of M athletic director

ALSO: Right-to-work amendment touted; Wolf Center disses “The Grey”; lack of snow hurts up north; Franken’s Hollywood friends come through; and more.

It has not been a bump-free ride. But U of M athletics director Joel Maturi will move out of that job this summer. The Strib story, by Dennis Brackin and Michael Rand, says: “Hired to help merge separate men’s and women’s departments in 2002, Maturi, a native of Chisholm, Minn., had to sort through plenty of contention and dysfunction on the heels of a scandal and subsequent NCAA violations that jolted both the men’s and women’s basketball programs. He was often praised for the way he guided the players, coaches and staff for 25 varsity sports through the transition. Maturi spearheaded successful efforts to save the men’s and women’s golf and men’s gymnastics teams during a budget crunch early in his tenure, and was a tireless supporter of every squad from basketball to swimming, putting in long hours, attending all kinds of games and events. … Maturi was asked about the hiring and firing of football coaches Glen Mason, Tim Brewster and Jerry Kill, among other issues. ‘I’m not naive’, he said. ‘Some decisions were better than others’.”

Adam Rittenberg at ESPN writes: “How should Maturi’s tenure as Minnesota’s AD be viewed? The athletic program had no major scandals under his watch, which hadn’t been the case in previous decades. He also helped bring football back to campus with the construction of TCF Bank Stadium, one of the best new facilities in college football. Maturi also made a splash with the hiring of men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith in 2007. But if ADs are ultimately judged by the success of their high-profile programs, Maturi fell short. His hiring of football coach Tim Brewster turned out very badly, and the prolonged search for Brewster’s successor last year didn’t look good, either. Maturi made some candid, eyebrow-raising comments after firing Brewster and during the process of hiring Jerry Kill.”

PiPress sports guy Tom Powers sums it up, saying: “Integrity, community involvement, social responsibility … Whatever. By the way, when is that damn football program finally going to get turned around? All that other stuff sounds dandy. But in all honesty, 95 percent of the people don’t care about any of it. The Golden Gopher football program was a millstone around the neck of Joel Maturi, just as it will be for the next person who sits in the athletic director’s chair. A functioning, successful football team is a cash cow. For 10 years, the Gophers haven’t even had a petty-cash calf. So it’s time for someone else to give it a shot. Maturi, who announced his ‘retirement’ as U of M athletic director this morning, accomplished some amazing things. Heck, he got a stadium built on campus and he did it via private fund-raising. That’s a miracle. Too bad it’s filled with fans of the visiting teams.

This, I guess, is the “jobs, jobs, jobs” focus we’ve been waiting 13 months to see. Says the Strib’s Jim Ragsdale: “Legislative Republicans announced another controversial constitutional amendment drive on Thursday. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, proposed an amendment that is known as the ‘right to work’ and the ‘employee freedom’ amendment. In essence, it allows workers in unionized workplaces to decide whether or not to remain outside the union, and to avoid paying dues. The proposal must go to the House and Senate, which both have Republican majorities. If approved, it goes to the voters in November as an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. Republicans have already put a gay-marriage ban amendment on the ballot and are talking about several others, including limits on or barriers to tax hikes and additional spending. … DFL legislators said the long-term effect of “right to work” legislation is to weaken the hand of unions and drive down wages. Sen. Ken Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, is a retired union carpenter who also worked as an agent for the carpenters’ union. He said most traditional right-to-work states have a higher percentage of poverty, a worse education system and more citizens on public assistance. ‘It’s another attack on working folks to help the rich folks,’ Kelash said.” Do the math. Lower wages = higher productivity = happier job creators.

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At Talking Points Memo, Eric Kleefeld notes the move and says: “Right-to-work laws are very common in the South and the West. This week, Indiana became the 23rd state — and more importantly, the first Rust Belt state — to adopt such a measure. Interestingly, Indiana Democrats had proposed a compromise of sending the bill to a referendum, which the majority Republicans rejected in favor of sending the bill directly to Gov. Mitch Daniels. In this case, Minnesota Republicans are seeking a referendum, in order to pass the bill over the head of a governor who opposes it. The right-to-work law would go beyond the current crackdowns on public-sector unions, by forbidding private-sector companies and unions from negotiating a contract that would require the collection of partial union dues from non-members. Unions must, in fact, negotiate on behalf of all employees within the bargaining unit, not just their own members. Thus, right-to-work laws enable employees to free-ride on labor negotiations, with the effect of damaging union financing and overall organization to begin with.” Why you’d almost think that was the whole point.

The new Liam Neeson action flick, “The Grey,” has done OK at the box office. But anyone with half a clue about wolf behavior can only roll their eyes. At MPR, Dan Kraker writes: “[T]he International Wolf Center in Ely isn’t thrilled with the action flick. In the Center’s blog Wild Bytes, Jo Tubbs, the International Wolf Center’s board chair, calls the movie ‘dark, depressing, and as accurate a portrayal of wolf behavior as King Kong was about gorillas.’ The Center is nominating The Grey for its first ever Scat Award, in the Scare Tactics and Silly Information categories. The educational center’s main complaint, according to Tubbs, is that wolves in the movie are portrayed as killers, ‘when the incidence of wolves killing humans in North America is so rare as to garner huge headlines.’ She says only two cases have been documented — a 2005 killing by wolves in Saskatchewan, and a 2010 death near Chignik Lake, Alaska.” I’ve got some northern Wisconsin buddies itching to protect their families from marauding wolf packs.

Winter is pretty much a lost cause up north. At the Duluth News Tribune, Danyel Piecek reports: “ ‘A lack of snow, means a lack of snowmobilers, means a lack of business,’ says President and CEO of Visit Duluth, Terry Mattson. But despite the lack of snow, the loss of the John Bear Grease Sled Dog Marathon and not having the Super Pipe at Spirit Mountain, President and CEO of Visit Duluth, Terry Mattson, says Duluth’s tourism has not suffered. ‘The diversity within the Duluth proper; meetings and conventions, the hockey tournaments, the skiing at Spirit Mountain on man-made snow, it’s all meeting for a very successful winter actually in terms of the bottom line’,  Mattson says. … And while businesses and tourism might not be that impacted in Duluth, here across the bridge in Wisconsin, it’s a different story. ‘Everybody’s business is down. Ours is I’m sure down 20-30-percent anyway since the holidays,’ says Owner of the Kro Bar in Brule, Dean Baillie. Dean Baillie, says the lack of snow has severely damaged their bottom line … forcing them to make some tough decisions. ‘We have to cut some hours to our employees and have other kinds of events that are more inside rather then outside,’ Baillie says. … Baillie said his parking lot it usually filled with more than 200 snowmobiles during the winter, but with the lack of snow, that number is nearly non-existent.”

Catharine Richert at MPR dug through Federal Election Commission filings and reports that Al Franken’s show-biz buddies are being good to him. She says: “[T]he comedian-turned-lawmaker pulled in thousands last year from some of the most hilarious people in Hollywood.

Here are a few highlights, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
• Seth MacFarlane, who is best known for being the brains behind the animated comedy ‘The Family Guy,’ gave Franken $10,000.
• Larry David, who co-created ‘Seinfeld’ and created and acts in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ gave Franken $2,500. His ex-wife, Laurie David, gave $2,500 as well.
• Comedienne Kathy Griffin gave $2,500.
• ‘Late Show’ host David Letterman gave Franken $2,500.
• Cross-dressing actor and stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard gave Franken $10,000, as did Bill Maher, who is host of HBO’s ‘Real Time with Bill Maher.’
• Director and producer Ron Howard gave Franken $1,000 as did his wife, Cheryl.
• Actress Meryl Streep and her husband Donald Gummer together gave Franken $1,200.”

And finally, some really great (not!) national press, via Rolling Stone for, as the headline puts it, “One Town’s War on Gay Teens.” Says writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely: “Located a half-hour north of Minneapolis, the 13 sprawling towns that make up the Anoka-Hennepin school district — Minnesota’s largest, with 39,000 kids — seems an unlikely place for such a battle. It’s a soothingly flat, 172-square-mile expanse sliced by the Mississippi River, where woodlands abruptly give way to strip malls and then fall back to ­placid woodlands again, and the landscape is dotted with churches. The district, which spans two counties, is so geographically huge as to be a sort of cross section of America itself, with its small minority population clustered at its southern tip, white suburban sprawl in its center and sparsely populated farmland in the north. It also offers a snapshot of America in economic crisis: In an area where just 20 percent of adults have college educations, the recession hit hard, and foreclosures and unemployment have become the norm. For years, the area has also bred a deep strain of religious conservatism. At churches like First Baptist Church of Anoka, parishioners believe that homosexuality is a form of mental illness caused by family dysfunction, childhood trauma and exposure to pornography — a perversion curable through intensive therapy. It’s a point of view shared by their congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who has called homosexuality a form of ‘sexual dysfunction’ that amounts to ‘personal enslavement.’ ” The story, of course, could be a tourist lure for a certain demographic.