New contract in place, Mason looks to future
MINNEAPOLIS -- The numbers are impressive, by Minnesota standards. In nine years at the University of Minnesota, football coach Glen Mason has guided the Golden Gophers to six bowl appearances, and his 32 wins over the past four seasons is the be...
MINNEAPOLIS -- The numbers are impressive, by Minnesota standards.
In nine years at the University of Minnesota, football coach Glen Mason has guided the Golden Gophers to six bowl appearances, and his 32 wins over the past four seasons is the best four-year total at the school in 100 years.
All that success earned Mason a four-year contract extension worth $1.65 million annually. Now, it's time for Mason and the Gophers to take the next step.
"We're proud of the progress we've made," Mason said Tuesday. "But we don't feel the job is done yet."
In 1997, Mason inherited a woeful team that for many years was the Big Ten doormat.
Slowly but surely, the Gophers have become a respectable member of the Big Ten, winning at Michigan this season and developing one of the best rushing offenses in the nation.
But they haven't seemed to be able to get over the hump and join the Wolverines, Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State in the upper echelon of the conference.
Heartbreaking losses, including this season's last-second home loss to Wisconsin and a blowout against the Hawkeyes to end the season, have stunted fast starts and prevented them from playing in a coveted New Year's Day bowl game.
So, how do the Gophers take that next step?
"That's an easy question, but a tough answer," Mason said. "To go from a loser to a winner, to a consistent winner, it's not all done until you win a conference championship."
Athletic director Joel Maturi said re-signing Mason was the first step toward making that goal a reality. He and Mason also spent much of Tuesday's press conference disputing that the negotiations grew contentious in the closing weeks.
"There never was a thought of going in a different direction," Maturi said.
Mason said he was always confident the deal would get done and he accepted part of the blame for the negotiations dragging through last week's Music City Bowl loss to Virginia.
He also admitted to an "emotional toll" taking hold of him after the two officials who hired him away from Kansas in 1997 -- former president Mark Yudof and former athletic director Mark Dienhart -- leave during Mason's tenure.
"They say if you lose them both, you have no chance," Mason said.
In many cases, new administrators like to hire "their own" coach. President Robert Bruininks and Maturi say they did just that.
"Joel sent me an e-mail on Jan. 1 that said, 'I just hired my football coach,"' Mason recalled fondly. "I've been here nine years and I do consider it home. I love it here, my family loves it here."
Maturi also wants to get the Gophers out of the stale, drab Metrodome and into their own outdoor stadium on campus, as well as raise more money from boosters to support the program.
"Joel and I feel that's going to be a reality sooner rather than later," Mason said.
The university has agreed to a $35-million naming rights deal with TCF but still has to secure approval from the state Legislature, which is asked to pay 40 percent of the $250 million stadium.
Mason will also have to hit the recruiting trail again to replace three big stars -- center Greg Eslinger, running back Laurence Maroney and guard Mark Setterstrom -- and a few other key players who played their last game in Nashville.
As talented as Maroney is, replacing him should be the least of Mason's worries. Gary Russell and Amir Pinnix have proven to be more than capable running backs, but will the same holes be there without Eslinger, the Outland Trophy winner, and Setterstrom, a four-year starter?
Maybe, maybe not. But when Mason spoke of the program's quest for a Big Ten title, he did so with a little twinkle in his eye.
"Sometimes it happens," he said, "when you least expect it."