A letter arrived at Jerry Kill's office a few days after he was hired as Gophers football coach. It was a congratulatory note from someone who used to sit in the same chair in that same office.
"I dropped him a note wishing him luck," Glen Mason said.
Yep, the same guy who was fired following the 2006 season, exactly one year to the day after he signed a five-year contract extension. The same guy who posted a 64-57 record in 10 seasons with the Gophers but looks like Bear Bryant when compared to his successor, Tim Brewster.
Kill didn't know Mason personally, but he called him after getting the note and asked if they could meet. That led to a second, longer meeting at which Kill picked Mason's brain about a number of different things related to coaching the Gophers.
"I'm not too proud to ask for help," Kill said recently.
Kill reached out to other former Gophers coaches too, including Lou Holtz and even Brewster. He found an admirer and ally in Mason.
"We really had a nice visit and I liked the guy," Mason said.
Mason will make his first appearance at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. He returned to the Gophers football complex for the first time this spring to visit Kill and watch one of his practices.
Mason, like Gophers fans everywhere, was stunned when he saw video of Kill suffering a seizure on the sideline last week but is relieved by the positive news of his recovery this week.
"It was awfully scary," Mason said, "but I think what [team doctor] Pat Smith said, it looks worse than it is."
Mason should feel some sense of pride as he walks into the stadium Saturday because he argued long and hard for it when he was in charge of the program. He had a standard answer anytime the stadium debate came up. "It's not a want, it's a need," he would say.
Mason, who remained in the Twin Cities after his firing, insists he harbors no ill will toward the university. He was disappointed with the decision and thought the school made a mistake, but he has moved on. Even so, I nearly fell out of my chair when he tweeted "Go Gophers!" a few weeks ago. (The fact he is on Twitter was shocking enough.)
"I live in this state, I pay taxes in this state," he said. "I was never bitter. Go back and check anything I said. I didn't agree with the decision, but they upheld their end of the bargain [with the buyout]."
Mason is just a fan now. He genuinely likes Kill, and vice versa.
"Coach Mason is a good football coach," Kill said. "He's had success here. I'll listen to anybody who I feel like can help us to maybe know about the history and what we need to do better."
Both coaches have reputations as program builders. They organize and run practices in similar fashion. They preach discipline and aren't afraid to speak their minds, even if it ruffles feathers. The only thing they sugarcoat is food.
Clearly it's easier to have an amiable relationship with the coach who replaced the coach who replaced you. But the respect feels authentic, to the point where I half-expect to see Mason standing on University Avenue holding a sign that reads, "In Kill We Trust!"
"You can tell with Jerry Kill that this is not his first rodeo," Mason said. "When you become a head coach for the first time, regardless of how long you've coached, it's your first rodeo."
Mason didn't mention anyone in particular, but it didn't take much effort to read between the lines. Brewster had never been a head coach or coordinator in college or the NFL when he replaced Mason, and we all know how that turned out.
Mason took over a downtrodden Gophers program in 1997 and made it respectable. He believes Kill is the right man for the current rebuilding job.
"I do because he's a coach," Mason said. "You're going to have to take kids and develop them into a team. Some people win because they just have superior talent. That's not going to happen here. Every once in a while you may get lucky and have a great recruiting class."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org