"Many base my success on wins and losses, and often times certain sports versus another. I'm not worried about Joel Maturi's legacy," he said, adding: "It's all in the eyes of the beholder."
Maturi said Thursday he will step down when his contract expires this summer. President Eric Kaler said he and Maturi, who will turn 67 next week, spoke several times about his status and mutually decided it is "simply the right time for Joel to retire."
Maturi was given a one-year appointment to serve as a special assistant to Kaler, a role that will include fundraising, teaching and helping the transition for his successor. Maturi's $351,900 annual salary will continue with benefits through June 2013.
"We have a new president and an old athletic director," Maturi said, his voice cracking and tears forming in his eyes.
Even Kaler, who has worked with Maturi for barely six months, choked up. He called Maturi's legacy "a lasting and shining one" and lauded his guidance during the merger of once-separate men's and women's departments after his hire in 2002.
"I can't imagine it done in a better way. He really cared about all of us," said women's gymnastics coach Meg Stephenson.
Maturi was a polarizing figure to fans and alumni.
During the search that led to the selection of Jerry Kill to be the football coach a little more than a year ago, a group of former players took out an advertisement in the student newspaper to plea for Maturi's removal from the process.
The primary criticism from the public was that he was too patient with mediocre performance in football and men's basketball. He gave coach Glen Mason a contract extension after the 2005 season but fired him the year after following a late-season collapse punctuated by a blown 38-7 lead in a bowl game against Texas Tech.
Maturi picked a first-time head coach in Tim Brewster to replace Mason, and Brewster never fulfilled his lofty promises and was fired at midseason in 2010. While Kill has been praised for his attitude and his work ethic, the Gophers went 3-9 in his first year.
"I want to make sure that he leaves out of this place knowing he made the right hire. So we need to win," said Kill, one of a handful of coaches who attended the news conference.
Maturi acknowledged: "Some decisions were a whole lot better than others."
Maturi kept Dan Monson as the men's basketball coach through a series of mediocre seasons until dismissing him in November 2006. Maturi then persuaded Tubby Smith to leave Kentucky and come to Minnesota in March 2007, his most remarkable hire as AD, but even Smith has yet to produce an NCAA tournament victory in his five years with the Gophers.
Smith, naturally, had plenty of praise for his outgoing boss.
"He's going to be missed. He's done some wonderful things," Smith said.
Kaler expressed confidence in picking a replacement with Division I experience by July.
The news conference was held at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers moved in 2009 after 28 seasons off campus and indoors at the Metrodome. Securing public money and private donations to build the first new football stadium by a Big Ten school in a half-century was arguably the greatest success during Maturi's run. There were national championships in men's and women's hockey and wrestling, and dozens of conference titles for low-profile sports, too.
The Gophers also never had a major NCAA violation over Maturi's tenure. When he was hired, the men's basketball program was still reeling from an academic fraud scandal that stripped scholarships and its 1997 Final Four appearance, among other punishment.
In figures released by the university last fall, the overall graduation success rate for all Gophers sports reached an all-time high of 80 percent, up from 67 percent in 2005. The football team's number has jumped from 41 percent to 59 percent in that span.
Maturi also spearheaded successful efforts to save the men's and women's golf and men's gymnastics teams during a budget crunch early in his tenure. He was a tireless supporter of every squad from basketball to swimming, attending all kinds of games and events.
"All of the things that go on in college athletics in terms of the arms race, he's made it stable for everybody," said wrestling coach J Robinson. "You have a concern of what's going to happen in the future."
Kaler said he shares a commitment to a "broad range" of sports.
"We just have to look at the financial viability of doing that," he said.
Maturi said he's more tired these days, not as able to endure the 14 to 16 hour workdays as he once was. The native of Chisholm, Minn., will spend more time with his wife, his children and his grandchildren — and hold out hope for a return to the Rose Bowl by the Gophers.
Kaler promised him a seat in his box for the game if that wish is fulfilled.
"I'm going to hold him to that," Maturi said.