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Updated: September 8th, 2013 6:39am
P.J.R.: Getting rid of Dienhart was huge Gophers' blunder

P.J.R.: Getting rid of Dienhart was huge Gophers' blunder

by Patrick Reusse
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The Gophers cruised to a 44-21 victory in a road game at New Mexico State on Saturday night. The Aggies have been losers in football for generations.

That has continued with McKinley Boston as the athletic director. He was hired late in 2004. Joe Christensen's reporting for the Star Tribune from Las Cruces included the information that the Aggies have a .210 winning percentage in football during Boston's tenure.

The most-notable victory for the Aggies in Boston's nine years came at TCF Bank Stadium in September 2011. New Mexico State shocked the Gophers in Jerry Kill's first home game. The real shock came in the final seconds, when Kill suffered a seizure and left the crowd, the TV audience, the players and the media stunned.

We've learned much more of Kill's history with seizures and epilepsy since then. We've also learned that the Gophers' program has improved under Kill and the Aggies' program has remained woeful. Doug Martin is in his first season there, and is Boston's third coach. Hal Mumme and DeWayne Walker preced Martin.

Boston was Minnesota's athletic director from 1991 to 1995, then was promoted to vice president for student development and athletics. Mark Dienhart had come to Minnesota as associate athletic director in 1990 and was promoted to athletic director in 1995.

The mention of Boston and his current duties at New Mexico State was a reminder of this: As far as the long-term success of Gophers athletics, the worst thing to happen in the aftermath of the academic fraud scandal in basketball in 1999 wasn't the tarnish to the school or the NCAA sanctions that followed new coach Dan Monson for a few years.

It was the fact that, in the name of soul-cleansing and due to political correctness, university President Mark Yudof felt obliged to get rid of Dienhart, along with Boston and coach Clem Haskins.

The university's investigation found indications that Boston had been aware of accusations of misconduct in Haskins' program and let it ride. There was no such link to Dienhart, and I can't be anymore candid than this: Yudof and his administrative lackeys didn't want to take the political heat that would have come for firing two black guys (Boston and Haskins) and allowing the white guy (Dienhart) to remain.

Dienhart's first big search as athletic director at Minnesota was for Jim Wacker's replacement after the 1996 season. That search seemed off the tracks early-on.

Bob Stoops, then the defensive coordinator from Florida, was the coveted candidate, but legend has it that he left his Minnesota interview saying: "I don't know who's in charge here.''

Meaning, Boston or Dienhart, but it was finally Dienhart who went back at Glen Mason at Kansas, and brought in an actual pro when it came to running a major football program.

Yudof's decision "not to renew'' Dienhart's contract put him in the job market. He worked for U.S. Bank after Minnesota and then returned to his alma mater of the University of St. Thomas in 2001.

Dienhart had been the football coach for the Tommies from 1981 through 1986, with a record of 44-14-1. He moved into an administrative job for four years, before being hired as an associate AD by Rick Bay at Minnesota.

When Dienhart returned to St. Thomas, it was as the head of fundraising. His title at the university would become executive vice president.

In October 2007, St. Thomas announced a $500 million capital campaign. By then, Dienhart and his fundraisers already had $310 million pledged -- including a gift of $60 million from Lee and Penny Anderson.

Dienhart dubbed this the "Opening Doors'' capital campaign, and when it was over, St. Thomas had raised $515 million. Included in the new buildings on the St. Paul campus were the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex and, right next door, the Anderson Student Center. These are two fabulous facilities with a combined cost of over $120 million.

There's also the business school in downtown Minneapolis; a bold St. Thomas initiative that received a huge boost when Best Buy's Dick Schulze pledged $50 million in February 2000. That was part of an earlier St. Thomas capital campaign before Dienhart returned to St. Thomas.

Yet, Schulze's view of Dienhart and what he meant to St. Thomas was made clear early this summer:

Dienhart resigned at the university to become the president and CEO of the Schulze Family Foundation. Schulze has said the goal is to increase the charitable foundation's fund from its current $100 million to $1 billion.

One of Dienhart's goals at St. Thomas was to provide the assets necessary to turn football into the same powerhouse as the rest of Tommies' athletics. That has been well-accomplished with Glenn Caruso as coach.

This has always amazed me: At Minnesota, the administration and athletic director Joel Maturi had to huff-and-puff to come up with $90 million for the on-campus football stadium. This included the bargain of the century for TCF Bank: a mere $35 million for 25 years of naming rights, plus benefits around the campus.

That left $55 million in gifts from boosters and other corporations. Dienhart and St. Thomas received more than that from Lee and Penny Anderson.

We know this: If Dienhart had not been run off at Minnesota for no good reason, Mason would have had more assets to work with, Tim Brewster never would have been hired, and a master plan for $190 million in improved athletic facilities would not seem such a long-shot.


Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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