Gophers get much-needed football shakeup
Two days after last Friday's record-setting meltdown at the Insight Bowl, University of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi fired football coach Glen Mason. Despite being a year late, this decision is a step forward for a program that has def...
Two days after last Friday's record-setting meltdown at the Insight Bowl, University of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi fired football coach Glen Mason. Despite being a year late, this decision is a step forward for a program that has defined disappointment and mediocrity in recent years.
The blown 38-7 third quarter advantage against Texas Tech was an all-too-familiar sight. Squandering huge leads in important games is an annual occurrence. The come-from-ahead 44-41 loss, though agonizing to watch, could not have been a shock to even the most ardent supporter.
It shouldn't be questioned that the Gophers improved during Mason's 10 seasons. By bringing in better talent, he orchestrated a movement from conference doormat to respectability. During his tenure there were road wins at Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. Places where Minnesota victories were previously unheard of.
There comes a point in major college athletics, however, when being respectable is simply not enough.
For the past five seasons, immensely talented Gopher teams have overwhelmed vastly inferior non-conference opponents, struggled through the Big Ten schedule and qualified for second-tier bowl games. Every year was basically the same.
The September foes have been laughable. Mismatches played at home against some of the worst teams in the country have not made the program reputable. For a time these meaningless conquests would strike hope into fans, but lately they've tired of watching the Temples and Florida Atlantics of the world take useless whippings.
What I always found alarming was Mason's less-than-stellar record in the Big Ten. A 32-48 record spurred no movement to the upper echelon of the league. Only two seasons ended with a conference mark of over .500 and it seemed every one was marred by a devastating loss similar to the Texas Tech debacle.
Letting seemingly insurmountable leads slip away against Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan and Wisconsin turned the fortunes of four promising seasons into average campaigns. Having all of these occur in the Metrodome is inexplicable.
A devoted fan of college football, even I find the yearly appearances in average bowl games tiresome. Three recent invites in four years to the Music City Bowl is not a tradition the university should be glowing about.
With seven bowl trips during his reign, Coach Mason was quick to point out that the program's history had never produced such consistent success. What he wouldn't mention is that nearly every team that wins just half its games qualifies for the postseason. Winning six games, with a large majority against hopeless competition, can hardly be considered a triumph.
Despite all of this, the future of Golden Gopher football does offer promise. A new on-campus stadium will be ready for play in 2009 and some solid non-conference opponents have been scheduled for the next few years. This may help lure talented high school players from our state who choose, and flourish with, more traditional football powers.
Hopefully, a new coach will breathe fresh life into a team that desperately needs it. The university has to be willing to spend some money and hire a proven winner. There are candidates everywhere if the price is right.
Unfortunately, Mason was signed to a hefty contract extension after last season and his early termination will net him roughly $3.5 million from the school. This may influence who gets the job.
In general, Gopher fans are not looking for the team to be a super-power in the mode of Ohio State or Michigan. Programs of that magnitude are rare and well-beyond what Minnesota will be able to produce anytime soon.
I think people would be satisfied if they attained the status of Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue and occasionally challenged for a Big Ten title. A berth in a quality New Year's Day bowl game would do wonders in putting the college game back in the spotlight.
The University of Minnesota has not had a football team of national prominence since the 1960's. The Mason firing offers a potential stepping stone for a return to that glory.
Dave LeGarde is a Duluth East basketball coach and sports aficionado. Readers can e-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .