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Search for Minnesota Athletic Director begins

Minnesota's hunt for a new athletic director has formally begun with the selection of an outside firm and search and advisory committees to help steer the process.

President Eric Kaler announced Tuesday the school will use Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search to identify and screen candidates and arrange and conduct interviews. The firm was used by Minnesota previously to hire three head coaches, Tim Brewster and then Jerry Kill in football and Tubby Smith in basketball. It will cost the school about $100,000, split between the president's office and the athletic department budgets. Parker has conducted 41 athletic director searches for both public and private universities, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State in the Big Ten.

"We want the best qualified person in the United States to take this job," Kaler said.

Finalists are expected to be identified and brought to campus for interviews by late April. Kaler's goal is to pick Joel Maturi's successor in early May. Big Ten athletic director salaries range from roughly $350,000 to more than $1 million, and Kaler said Minnesota will probably pay the new AD in the middle of that range.

"I'd be real comfortable with somebody with that sitting AD experience, but I'm open to qualified candidates from really a wide range of backgrounds," Kaler said.

The search firm keeps the process private to avoid complicating or jeopardizing a candidate's current job. Kaler won't be involved in any interviews until finalists are selected. He'll be debriefed by a four-person search committee until then. The co-chairs of that committee are Tim Mulcahy, the university's vice president for research, and Mary Jo Kane, a professor of kinesiology and the director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.

She chaired the search committee in 2002 that led to Maturi's hire.

Advising them will be a 21-member advisory committee of faculty, staff, coaches, current and former athletes as well as off-campus supporters of Gophers sports. Recognizable names are quarterback MarQueis Gray, men's hockey coach Don Lucia, former football star and current radio analyst Darrell Thompson and former hockey star Lou Nanne.

Maturi has the job until July 1, when he'll begin a one-year transitional post including teaching, fundraising and advising the new AD. If a big decision is necessary before then, however, Kaler said the new AD would be "in the mix." Smith's contract is one potential situation that could need addressing in that timeframe. He'll have two years left on his original deal after this season, but talks about an extension were recently tabled.

Kaler took over his job just last year, making this one of his most critical decisions. He jokingly called it the "most important hire of the 21st century" before stressing the school's status "first and foremost" as an academic institution. Kaler also said the biggest challenge facing the new AD will be changing the public perception of Gophers sports, which have largely disappointed the ticket-buying and TV-watching masses in football, basketball and hockey in recent years. The football team in particular has not been to the Rose Bowl in 50 years.

"There is some negativity about Gopher athletics that's in the community, and I think it's really unfortunate," Kaler said. "I think reflecting on what we haven't been able to do in the past doesn't really help us going forward."

He said he wants Maturi's successor to "really shake the community by the lapels and say, 'OK, we can't do a single thing about the past, but we can be on board as a community.'"