Dec. 31, 2006
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The Minnesota Gophers have blown some big leads in Glen Mason's 10 years as coach.
The latest, and perhaps greatest collapse, was too much for athletics director Joel Maturi.
Maturi fired Mason on Sunday, two days after Texas Tech rallied from 31 points down in the third quarter to beat the Gophers in the Insight Bowl.
"It was a rocky season if you go back and look at each of the games," Maturi said. "When the season concluded in the manner that it did, I felt it was in the best long-term interests of Gopher football that we make a change."
The move brought Mason's up-and-down run in the Twin Cities to an end exactly one year after he signed a four-year contract extension that pays him $1.65 million annually. He will receive a $2.2 million buyout and about $1.3 million in deferred compensation as he leaves.
Coupled with the firing of men's basketball coach Dan Monson in November, which included a $1.3 million buyout, that puts the Gophers athletic department on shaky financial ground.
"I will certainly have to borrow some of that money from the university," said Maturi, who got school president Robert Bruininks' blessing on Saturday before making the move. "We in the athletics department are responsible for that and understanding of that."
In the end, Texas Tech posting the biggest comeback in bowl history made the costly move necessary.
Mason, 56, was not present at the press conference on Sunday, but issued a statement that said he was given "no specific explanation" for his firing during a phone call from Maturi.
"Needless to say, I am extremely disappointed, however I respect the decision of my superiors, Mr. Joel Maturi and president Robert Bruininks," Mason said.
It was the final of a long line of disappointing losses under Mason.
Perhaps Mason's toughest loss came in October 2003, when the 6-0 Gophers hosted Michigan and led 28-7 in the second half. But the Wolverines stormed back to win 38-35, and the Gophers folded down the stretch.
Minnesota also blew a 24-0 lead in the 2000 Micronpc.com Bowl before losing to North Carolina State 38-30 and lost to Wisconsin last year when punter Justin Kucek dropped a snap in the end zone that the Badgers recovered for a touchdown in the final minutes.
Those heartbreakers overshadowed the significant strides made under a coach who has gained a reputation for turning programs around at Kent State and Kansas.
He compiled a 64-57 record at Minnesota after inheriting a Big Ten doormat that hadn't had a winning season in seven years when he arrived on campus in 1997.
The Gophers emerged as one of the best rushing teams in the nation during his time here and showed enough improvement to gain state backing for a new on-campus football stadium that is set to open in 2009.
"I am proud of the improvements we have made the past 10 years, especially in the performance of our players on and off field," Mason said. "It has been my distinct honor and privilege to be able to coach these quality young men."
His teams produced several All-Americans and NFL players. Backs like Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney have emerged as solid pros.
"I have respect for him. I'm not going to bash him now," said former guard Mark Setterstrom, after he played with the St. Louis Rams at the Metrodome against the hometown Vikings.
"He has put together some good teams, but at the same time change is needed sometimes and I wish him the best," Setterstrom said, adding: "I think he did well as a coach, especially with what we had there. With a new stadium and some new things, I think things will be better in the future."
Mason's legacy at Minnesota will be defined not by the improvements made on offense and in recruiting, but instead by missed opportunities and a 3-15 career record against Michigan and Wisconsin, two of the school's three biggest rivals.
"I felt we needed a new voice, a new vision and new leadership to bring a football championship to the University of Minnesota," Maturi said.
He will have to move fast. National signing day is just over a month away, making this a prime time for recruiting.
"It will certainly make us hurry the search, but I don't want to do it so quickly that we don't hire the best long-term fit for the University of Minnesota," Maturi said.