Thursday, September 10, 2009
Moe, Dienhart, Mason, saw need for campus facility
By Marcus R. Fuller
September 8, 2009
University of Minnesota men's athletic director Tom Moe answers questions from the media during a press conference Friday at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex. (Staff)
Tom Moe had been the Gophers' interim athletics director less than a week when he made his dream about bringing football back to campus public in 1999.
"It caught the president's (Mark Yudof) attention, because it really came like a shot out of the blue," said Moe, who eventually took over a year later and served until 2002. "He called me and said, 'As I understand it, you're interested in seeing a football stadium built on our campus.' I said, 'Absolutely.' He said, 'If you're going to talk about it, then you have to make sure that it's your idea and not mine.' He didn't want to be associated with any kind of stadium discussion, at least at that point."
The discussion didn't end there.
Moe, a Gophers football most valuable player in 1959 and a member of the national championship baseball team in 1960, is proud the Gophers finally will have a place to call home on campus when they open TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday against Air Force.
Moe, 71, doesn't take credit for being the person who got it all started. But he certainly feels surreal about it actually coming to fruition.
"I was very passionate about the importance of a stadium, and I couldn't be more excited about it all coming together," he said. "Now, we're ready to play our first game there."
Moe could have been turned off by Yudof's initial lack of interest in a new stadium. Instead, he became even more outspoken.
"In the following months that I was there, and I was there almost three years, I don't know how many groups I spoke to throughout the state of Minnesota," Moe said. "It must have been 75 different groups during that three-year period, at least. Each time at some point during the talk, I would focus on the importance to the university of having a stadium on our campus. I stressed the financial advantages of doing so and also, more importantly, the atmosphere and collegiate feel that would be created by an on-campus stadium that we could possibly replicate."
Mark Dienhart, whom Moe replaced as athletics director in 1999, said he was in favor of the Gophers playing on campus, but he didn't think fans cared as much about it with the program struggling to win.
Dienhart said former Gophers coach Glen Mason was the catalyst of the stadium talk.
"I would be overstating my involvement to say that me talking about it had any real impact," said Dienhart, who was AD from 1995-99. "Then Mason all of a sudden beat Penn State when it was ranked No. 2. After a couple more years, he beat Michigan and Ohio State. That had people thinking the program wasn't preordained to be a bottom feeder."
Mason said he first unintentionally pushed for a new stadium at a Rotary Club event in 1998.
"Someone asked me about the Dome, and in a moment of weakness I told them exactly what I thought, that it wasn't the best situation and we needed our own place on campus," he said. "I was the first one speaking about it, the only one speaking at the time. In my mind, it was a no-brainer. I didn't want the guy following me to say we never addressed the issues of this program. Then, when Tom Moe became AD, he shared the same views I did. In fact, he was the one that was outspoken."
One of the first orders of business for Moe as interim AD was to extend Mason's contract. He had earned Big Ten coach of the year honors in 1999 after leading Minnesota to eight wins and its best season in 32 years.
Moe said Mason thought the Metrodome really hurt his recruiting.
"He said we had numerous letters and explanations from players we were trying to recruit in those years who would decide to go somewhere else," Moe said. "They said one of the major reasons was the fact that we didn't have our own stadium on campus. They would compare the excitement that you would experience at Iowa City and Madison on game day to downtown Minneapolis."
Mason bringing the Gophers to a competitive level helped attract fans who weren't that involved before, but Moe said many long-time supporters always wanted to move back.
"They were looking for a glimmer of hope," Moe said, "to be able to come back, be involved and show their support for the university. I can't tell you the positive reception I was seeing over and over from groups throughout the state, whenever I talked about the need for the stadium. I don't ever remember receiving a negative response."
Moe never planned on getting involved with Gophers athletics after his playing days, let alone becoming such an instrumental force in bringing attention to on-campus football.
After spending 40 years at the Dorsey & Whitney law firm in Minneapolis, he had retired and expected to move to Palm Desert, Calif., with his wife when Yudof called about the AD job.
Moe didn't accept the job to push for a new stadium, but that became his goal.
He recalled being a young lawyer in 1980 when the Gophers were talking about leaving Memorial Stadium, where he played from 1957-59, to a stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
"I felt so strongly about it at that time that I wrote a lengthy letter to the board of regents outlining why I thought it would be a huge mistake," Moe said. "I retained that view the entire time we were at the Metrodome. While I hadn't planned on being an AD, when the job came to me, I figured it was a great opportunity to use that position to express that view to the community and to the administration."
It fell on deaf ears at first, but eventually the higher-ups listened.
Current university President Bob Bruininks, who was hired in 2002 and fully supported current AD Joel Maturi's stadium efforts, said he was inspired by Moe's words.
"I think it's important to emphasize that the former ADs like (Mark) Dienhart and Moe were very passionate in advocating for the stadium very early in the process," Bruininks said. "When I was trying to formulate the strategy here, I received a very thoughtful letter and a copy of a speech that Tom Moe had given."