I don't believe that Matt Cutts said that Google is gunning for SEO's. Suggest you listen to the audio. They're gunning for false positives; stuff that ranks because of tactics and not because of quality.
And what people don't seem to get is that AdSense and Search are apples and oranges. Of course Google AdSense pointed to the guy as a success story - he increased his earnings, and he increased Google's earnings, and that's what AdSense is supposed to do. And by the standards that were in place when it happened, maybe it was a quality site by Search too.
But a lot has changed since then. We already have seen ample evidence that Google's search quality team does NOT have the same goal as the AdSense department. For all it might seem ridiculous, this is actually fairly common and recognizable to anyone who has had to deal with really large companies and/or government departments; the right hand frequently does not know (or care) what the left hand is doing.
If two departments have different goals, then they usually have different standards, and pretty much by definition, they have different measurements for success or failure.
I dunno when this guy was the success story (and by the way - if Google asks you, NEVER let them make you the success story. It only helps Google, not you) but maybe it was before EVERYONE AND HIS BROTHER plastered as many ads as possible all over every bit of their sites, and above the fold, too. In case you haven't been paying attention, quality sites have been drifting more and more towards looking like MFA sites - probably due to a number of things (and whether declining CTR is a cause or an effect of this is a separate and interesting discussion) plus everyone's doing the monetizing thing now, so maybe what looked marginally okay two or three years ago looks pretty spammy now.
When I saw his site (right after he got hit by Panda) it looked pretty spammy to me. I don't know if I would have thought that three years ago though, because I hadn't been so inundated with ad impressions yet.
And that may be why he got slammed in 2011 for something that was fine in, I dunno, 2008 or so.