Iron Range native Maturi's work status at the U of M has changed, but not his style

Though he's one of the inspirations behind motivational speaker Matt Foley, Chris Farley's buffoonish character on Saturday Night Live, Joel Maturi resisted the urge to hitch up his trousers, whine about living in a van down by the river and coll...

Joel Maturi speaks at DECC Hall of Fame
Former University of Minnesota athletic director and Chisholm native Joel Maturi was the guest speaker at the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony in Duluth on Wednesday. (Clint Austin /

Though he's one of the inspirations behind motivational speaker Matt Foley, Chris Farley's buffoonish character on Saturday Night Live, Joel Maturi resisted the urge to hitch up his trousers, whine about living in a van down by the river and collapse on the podium during his role as guest speaker at Wednesday's DECC Athletic Hall of Fame banquet.

Instead, Maturi, the 67-year-old Chisholm native who recently retired after 10 years as athletic director at the University of Minnesota, spoke about how young athletes need to try to put in their best effort and how the pressures to win at all costs have created a negative atmosphere in collegiate athletics.

During Maturi's reign, the Gophers hired big-name coaches Tubby Smith in men's basketball and Olympic volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon, posted the highest graduation rate in the school's athletic history, balanced 10 consecutive budgets and had few, if any, NCAA violations.

Football also returned to campus with the building of 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium.

"They can bury me there because I'll always feel a part of that," he said. "There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into that. Quite honestly, I still get goosebumps when I go there. It's a fabulous facility."


Still, in the minds of many, Maturi's term is inextricably tied to the hiring of former football coach Tim Brewster and his limited success. But Maturi says he did his best to improve Gopher athletics and believes current coach Jerry Kill will right the ship.

"Obviously there are disappointments," he said. "Some of our high-profile sports have not improved; in fact football has taken a step backward. I know that and am partly responsible for that, but I do have a lot of faith and confidence in Jerry Kill. I think he's the right person and the right fit."

Maturi is working on special projects for Eric Kaler and Norwood Teague, the new school president and AD, respectively, to help raise funds for the university. He's also teaching a course in sports facility and event management.

"I'm busy, but not exceptionally so, and enjoying the transition," he said.

It's been 50 years since Maturi, a three-sport athlete, graduated from Chisholm High School. He was a co-captain on Bob McDonald's first basketball team in the 1961-62 season, and the school's football field was renamed this summer in his honor.

"He was a leader, a tiger in all the sports he played," McDonald said. "There was nothing that you'd ask him to do that he wouldn't give it a good try.

"He went on to bigger things but he never, in a sense, left what he was here in Chisholm. That's why he was appreciated, and still is, around town."

Maturi is proud of his background -- "There's a lot of Range in me," he says -- though that background took a beating, at times, in the Twin Cities media.


"I was ridiculed by some of the press because they called me the Ranger," said Maturi, whose brothers Robert and Jon live in Virginia and Grand Rapids, respectively. "I took it proudly and believed that the values instilled in me and my siblings and classmates by our parents and community are the foundation of what made the Range and northern Minnesota special."

For McDonald, those virtues include Maturi's frankness and honesty.

"He deviates from the mean in college athletics," the venerable Bluestreaks coach said. "He's a straight man, and has always been that way. If you talk to him, he's not going to mealy-mouth you; he's going to be up front."

Like his tutor, Maturi found his way into coaching after graduating from Notre Dame in 1967. He spent 19 years coaching basketball at Madison Edgewood High School, earning entry into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992, and coached football for 15 years.

That's where the Farley story began. Maturi coached the then-5-foot-8, 215-pound nose guard-center for four seasons, including Maturi's final year on the sidelines.

"He was funny, though I didn't laugh as often when I coached him," Maturi said.

Years later, when the robust comedian debuted a new character on Saturday Night Live, he hearkened back to the days when Maturi would get in a football stance, pull his belt up and give the team a rousing oratory.

"Matt Foley is a little bit about me, I'm afraid," Maturi said. "I used to joke with him, 'You made a lot of money making fun of me.'


"I was not living in a van down by the river, but I did give him a few pep talks. That was the remembrance that I guess he had of me."

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