The stalemate is over.
It took a lot longer than anyone wanted or expected, but the University of Minnesota and football coach Glen Mason reached an agreement on a contract Saturday night.
Pushing negotiations to the 11th hour, the sides reached an agreement on a new five-year contract, thus avoiding a potential doomsday scenario in which the university and Mason would part ways.
The agreement is worth about $1.65 million annually in direct and deferred compensation and will keep Mason in place through the 2010 season. Mason also has a chance to earn an additional $750,000 in performance bonuses, involving Big Ten championships, national rankings and graduation rates.
"I can't adequately express how happy I am, speaking not only for me but for my family and coaching staff, that we will be able to continue making progress in our football program and also be able to live and raise our families in the great state of Minnesota," Mason said in a statement.
"I take great pride in being the head coach at the University of Minnesota and could not be more excited about working with [athletic director] Joel [Maturi] and President [Bob] Bruininks toward goals all Minnesotans want to achieve."
The sides reached the deal only hours before contracts for Mason's assistant coaches were to expire. The university was prepared to present the assistants with notices of nonrenewal if an agreement was not reached. That might have triggered Mason's departure after nine seasons at Minnesota.
Instead, the sides were able to bridge the gap.
"I'm ecstatic and Glen's ecstatic," Maturi said.
The deal, which is expected to be finalized Tuesday, calls for $1.35 million annually in guaranteed salary. Mason will earn another $300,000 in retirement and deferred compensation. The performance incentives could push the value of the deal over $2 million annually. Mason was believed to be seeking guaranteed money in the neighborhood of $1.8 million.
The debate over how much money should be guaranteed caused negotiations to drag on for over a month and created tough talk and a swirl of media attention that overshadowed the Music City Bowl festivities last week.
Both sides said negotiations remained amicable throughout the past month, but both clearly dug in their heels over what they considered to be a fair and competitive deal.
"I'm very pleased that these lengthy negotiations were concluded successfully," said University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg, who negotiated the deal.
Now that it's over, the parties have some fences to mend. Mason's contract uncertainty created tension inside the athletic department this season. Maturi disputed claims of a rift between him and Mason.
"Things were never not amicable between Glen and I," Maturi said. "I've said all along that I wanted him to be our coach. I've been consistent in saying that. And he's said all along that he wanted to stay here."
Asked Friday if he ever doubted whether the university wanted him to return, Mason paused for a few seconds before saying, "No, because I don't know why they wouldn't want me to come back."
Said Bruininks in a statement: "I'm pleased that we have successfully negotiated ... Coach Mason's contract. Under his leadership, Gopher football has been taken to new levels and we are looking forward to an even stronger future."
The coaches now must do some damage control to salvage the recruiting season, which culminates with signing day Feb. 1. People close to the program said several recruits who have given verbal commitments called assistant coaches Friday night wondering if they had been fired.
"I've talked to all my [recruits], and they're cool with everything," defensive line coach Carey Bailey said.
In nine seasons Mason has guided the Gophers to a 58-50 record and six bowl game appearances, including four consecutive. However, the Gophers have not finished higher than fourth in the Big Ten under Mason and finished eighth and seventh, respectively, in the conference the past two seasons.
Mason maintained throughout the past year that he and his family love living in Minnesota and wanted to remain here. He also sought improvements in the overall program, including better pay for his assistants.
The new deal includes more than $100,000 additional compensation for Mason's staff. The Gophers ranked 10th in the Big Ten in assistant coaches' salaries this season.