The fired Gophers' football coach did a good job and faced a lot of obstacles that other coaches have experienced here in trying to build a winning program.
Glen Mason didn't expect to get a phone call at home around 12:15 p.m. Sunday from athletic director Joel Maturi relaying the message that Mason was no longer the Gophers football coach.
So Mason will be paid $229,500 as the 90-day period compensation for supplementary income and media work, and nearly $2 million in base salary for the remainder of his contract, plus he has deferred compensation of $1.45 million earned from his previous contract.
And with fired basketball coach Dan Monson owed $1.32 million, the university now owes the two coaches more than $5 million. Maturi said Sunday that, "We will borrow the money from the administration, but the athletic department has to pay the money back."
Maturi added that this won't cause any non-revenue sports to be cut.
"I don't have to apologize for what I have done for the University of Minnesota," Mason told me when I reached him at home. "Seven bowl games in 10 years. Yeah, compared to what this program was like when I got here, I am not going to apologize. Why, I'm proud of the job that those players did on and off the field. You know, yeah we lost some games that we shouldn't have lost and we won some games that we shouldn't have won probably too."
Mason has "been humbled by the number of national media and national coaches and even athletic directors that have called me in shock today, so just leave it at that. That's just the way it goes."
Mason said on his visit to a supermarket that people were glad to see him.
"They said: 'Coach, it's great to see you, we didn't think you'd be out.' I said, "What? I'm not embarrassed about anything. I didn't do anything wrong."
What is sad is that all of the assistant coaches and people connected with the administration of the football program also were fired. Otherwise, their contracts would have been automatically extended.
One assistant coach, Gordon Shaw, has been asked by Maturi to continue to stay in contact with the recruits who have committed and let them know what is going on.
Bowl loss caused firing
Maturi made it clear at Sunday's news conference that had Minnesota won the Texas Tech game that "we probably wouldn't be here today." It was the way that the Gophers lost it -- blowing a 38-7 lead with 7:34 left in the third quarter -- that caused Maturi to get hundreds of e-mails criticizing Mason. The story on that loss wasn't going to go away, and it would have been bad for ticket sales and the ability to raise the $43 million-plus needed to fund the new stadium.
University President Bob Bruininks surely received some phone calls after the loss informing him there would be no donations if Mason remained.
Even though Maturi said his relationship with Mason had improved every year, Mason came close to losing his job after the 2005 season.
At the end of that season I asked Bruininks about Mason's future. The president made it clear he expected better results from the football program.
If it had not been for pressure by former Gophers hockey star Lou Nanne and other prominent alumni, Mason would never have received the five-year contract he signed at the end of last season. Bruininks never has been a big Mason booster, and no doubt Maturi will be more comfortable getting to pick his own coach. Mason was hired by the previous AD, Mark Dienhart.
Tough to hire coach
The Gophers have had nine football coaches since Bernie Bierman's resignation in 1950.
There is a reason why the Gophers have not won or shared a Big Ten title since 1967.
Coaches who have taken this job have been big winners other places and all of the sudden they lose their touch here because the administration never has supported the programs.
Murray Warmath, Cal Stoll, Joe Salem and Jim Wacker were fired after they won at their previous jobs and couldn't win here.
What people don't realize is how much Mason is respected by coaches all over the country. They believe he has done not just a good job, but a great one.
If I had a relative in the coaching business and he asked me about the Minnesota job, I would tell him to stay where they are and look for a better situation. There are lot of problems here that cause the losing. When close friends call, Mason will not hesitate to relate the information.
I have seen all of these coaches come and go, and while Mason and I had an up-and-down relationship, I don't think they will be able to hire a better coach. And with the debt owed to Mason and Monson, will the U have the money to attract a good coach?
Furthermore, they have just enjoyed on paper the best recruiting class in 10 years, and they are going to lose some of these prospects.
Mason will have a job in short order. Georgia hired him once before he backed out. Don't be surprised if he is considered for the Alabama job if the Dolphins' Nick Saban doesn't take it.
If I was Maturi, I would put in a call to Lou Holtz, who did wonders at the box office here, and see if he has some interest in being kind of an interim coach for a couple of years. I think he would take the job. And he can coach as well as anybody.
But I believe the leading candidate for the job will be former Nebraska football coach Frank Solich. He was 58-19 in six seasons at Nebraska and was fired for no reason at all. He is 70-30 as a head coach, going 4-7 and 9-4 his two seasons at Ohio University. The Bobcats play in the GMAC Bowl on Sunday. He is available. Maturi, having been athletic director at Miami of Ohio, is sold on the caliber of football played in the Mid-American Conference.
Maturi is also close with Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.
In fact if Mason had been replaced a year ago, the new coach here would have been the current Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner, who Maturi hired at Miami, Ohio.
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