College athletics: Ex-Gophers garner support for AD job

By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Pete Najarian moved back to the Twin Cities from New York this year to be closer to family. So the former star linebacker for the University of Minnesota is around his alma mater more when ...

By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - Pete Najarian moved back to the Twin Cities from New York this year to be closer to family.
So the former star linebacker for the University of Minnesota is around his alma mater more when he’s not commuting to the Big Apple, where he works as a stock trader and television personality on CNBC’s “Fast Money.”
Najarian has talked to boosters about the resignation of Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague after a sexual harassment investigation. Despite his lack of athletic administrative experience, Najarian has become a favorite among boosters to replace Teague as AD.
“It’s absolutely flattering beyond words to be in the conversation,” said Najarian, 51. “Whether or not that’s legitimate, we’ll see. It’ll be interesting once the university puts together a team (to decide) what they’re looking for. I would be an out-of-the-box kind of guy.”
When University President Eric Kaler announced Teague’s departure Friday at a news conference, he didn’t talk about the hiring process except to say it would entail a national search.
Several key boosters have indicated they do not want a search firm involved and that they prefer candidates currently on staff or with Minnesota connections. Such a list would include interim AD Beth Goetz, associate AD Dan O’Brien and Minneapolis attorney Lee Hutton III, a former Gophers wide receiver.
Hutton, whose younger brother Logan also was a receiver for the Gophers, is interested in the job. Former Gophers basketball player and Washington Wizards forward Kris Humphries first posed the question in a tweet last week: “Norwood Teague out, Hutton in?”
“(Former Minnesota AD) McKinley Boston told me it would be a good idea to throw my hat in in 2012 when Joel Maturi was on his way out,” Hutton said. “I decided to wait at that time to get several more years of experience, but I’ve told everyone this time I would be interested.”
A lawyer in Minneapolis since 2007, Hutton represents professional athletes and celebrities. He also has handled sexual harassment cases.
“I know how sensitive those allegations can be,” said Hutton, 39, a native of Galveston, Texas. “But I think it’s going to be evident moving forward the quality of the Gophers’ resiliency and the quality of their character. I think there are some quality people there with (football coach Jerry) Kill. The program is very solid and stable. I don’t think this issue will derail the fundraising project at all.”
Other possible Gophers AD candidates are Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson, Northern Illinois AD Sean T. Frazier, Iowa deputy AD Gene Taylor and Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard.
“The types of names I’ve seen floating around for the job are almost exclusively people holding roles at the U or somewhere else,” Najarian said. “I don’t know how realistic it is, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think I can get it. It really depends on the direction that they feel they want to go. It’s fun and really interesting to have a fair amount of people supporting the idea. That’s really great.”
Najarian, who was a member of the last graduating class as Minneapolis Central High School, which closed in 1982, played for the Gophers from 1982-85 and ranks No. 2 on the career tackles list behind former All-American Tyrone Carter.
After playing 18 games in two NFL seasons with the Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Najarian joined his brother, Jon, as an options trader in 1992. Over the next 23 years, he served as president of Mercury Trading, a market-making firm in Chicago, and co-founded and with his brother.
He has kept his pulse on college football as an ESPN commentator since 2013.
The next AD will need to manage Title IX issues and have a strong relationship with Kill to lead fundraising for a $190 million facilities project.
Najarian knows lot about money but also sees potential in post-Teague Gophers athletics.
“I think the really positive side is the program isn’t broken,” he said. “The headline (with Teague) is going to grab people. It’s become a huge story across the country. But it’s something that happened, it’s unfortunate and sad. I feel awful that it happened. But I think the program is moving in the right direction. There are a lot of positives you can point to athletically and academically. You don’t have to go in and fix something. You just have to go in and continue what’s already started and build from there.”

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