How much worse can this get for University of Minnesota athletics?
That depends on whether the alcohol-infused behavior that cost athletics director Norwood Teague his job Friday morning was a one-time indiscretion, as U President Eric Kaler insisted at a press conference, or part of a pattern.
Complainant and witness statements released by the U indicated Teague hit on and sexually harassed two female university employees — one single, one married — at a function several weeks ago. Kaler declined to offer specifics that might identify the women, but the documents are damning.
The married complainant said Teague repeatedly pinched her buttocks, ask if she was open to cheating on her husband, and sent text messages suggesting they go skinny dipping. Lewd texts followed. The unmarried complainant said Teague asked inappropriate questions, like “Why haven’t you married your boyfriend?” and rubbed her shoulders. Teague, 49, is not married.
Teague told KARE-11’s Jana Shortal he was drunk that night and will seek treatment for an alcohol problem.
“At a recent University event, I had entirely too much to drink,” Teague said on camera, reading from a statement. “I behaved badly towards nice people and sent truly inappropriate texts. I’m embarrassed and I apologize to everyone involved.”
Teague exits with the university $80 million short of the funds needed to build the $150 million Athletics Village facility, and with the Office of Civil Rights investigating a gender equity complaint against the athletic department. The U named deputy athletics director Beth Goetz, the senior women’s administrator, as interim AD while the usual “nationwide search” begins for Teague’s replacement.
While Teague showed some courage by admitting to an alcohol problem and seeking treatment, it creates a quagmire for Kaler and the university. Kaler said Teague told him he simply had one bad night, not one of many. Kaler better hope Teague is being straight with him, because if there were other incidents, and people come forward, Kaler will face tough questions about his competence and the University’s vetting process. Potential donors have every right to question Kaler as an appropriate steward of university dollars if this blows up.
It was curious that no one I spoke to at the U on Friday seemed surprised or shocked by Teague’s departure. And Kaler trotted out legalese when questioned about Teague’s prior conduct. “This is the first reported allegation of sexual harassment the University received on Norwood Teague,” Kaler said. “There have been no formal reports filed about him being drunk in public.”
Asked if he heard anything informally, Kaler didn’t exactly say no. “People talk,” he said. “There are rumors all the time about lots of people. I’m not going down that walkway with you.”
Kaler hired Teague in April 2012 to replace the retiring Joel Maturi. A North Carolina native who previously worked at Arizona State, North Carolina and Virginia Commonwealth, Teague fired men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith and women’s basketball coach Pam Borton within his first two years to hire Richard Pitino from Florida International and Marlene Stollings from VCU, respectively. Pitino’s Gophers won the 2014 NIT but missed the NCAA Tournament last year, while last season Stollings led her Gophers to their first NCAA bid in six years.
Yet Teague wasn’t particularly well-liked at the U, especially among supporters of women’s athletics. Football Coach Jerry Kill took a veiled shot at Teague earlier this week, pointing out that it was Teague, not Kill, who scheduled powerhouse Texas Christian in the season opener.
The university had hoped to break ground this month for the Athletics Village, a project that includes practice facilities for football, and men’s and women’s basketball. But in June the University Board of Regents tabled a vote on the project until September, in part to finalize plans to relocate the track, which sits on the Village site. The Minnesota Daily reported this week that the Minnesota Heritage Preservation Commission opposed a plan to demolish silos and a grain elevator east of TCF Bank Stadium and move the track there.
Whether Teague’s departure helps or hinders fund-raising remains to be seen. “I believe our donors are giving to an Athletics Village program at the University of Minnesota,” Kaler said. “They were not giving to an Athletics Village program for Norwood Teague. The momentum behind this is high. I’ve spoken to several members of the Board of Regents who expect us to advance the project and move forward on schedule.”
We’ll see how that works out.