Criticism of Mason quieted some as the Gophers won their final three games to earn another trip to a bowl game. But the bowl loss proved to be the final straw in a complex marriage.
News of Mason's firing stunned his players.
"Guys feel bad because if we had won the game this might not have happened," senior quarterback Bryan Cupito said.
Mason's legacy is a complicated one. He brought respectability to a downtrodden program, did not tolerate troublemakers and produced a handful of All-America players.
However, his record and string of bowl-game appearances were aided greatly by easy nonconference schedules. Several spectacular late-game collapses infuriated fans. He also made several blunders that included his infamous "if the phone rings, I will listen" quote when asked about other job openings.
Mason was admired by a loyal group of influential boosters and fans. But he was seen as aloof and distant by many casual fans, and also had a testy relationship with the media.
Maturi said Mason's polarizing personality did not affect fundraising efforts for the new on-campus stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2009. However, he admitted that Mason's sagging popularity played a role to some degree.
"I try not to let any outside influence like that make a significant difference," he said. "At the same time, I'm sure those kind of things are involved in answering the questions: What is the long-term future of Gophers football and how positive can it be? Are our students and fans going to be behind us? Are we going to have the energy that is necessary to move forward? All of those kinds of things add to the decision that was made."
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org