Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Year In Review: The Mason Firing

Even the most staunch Glen Mason haters were caught a little bit by surprise when on the eve of the new year Joel Maturi axed the coach who became to be known as "Mediocre Mason" during his decade long stint as Minnesota's football coach.

Here's what FireMason.com wrote on Dec. 31, 2006: The loss to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl in classic Mason fall-from-ahead fashion has apparently led to the coach's dismissal. The late-season three game rally that qualified the gophers for the bowl had admittedly and obviously left me lacking motivation, as I assumed that the coach's future was secure for another year. The firing is a welcome and surprising holiday gift. Kudos to everybody who took the time to write to Joel Maturi and the other big-shots. This could have and would have gone on longer if we had let it.

I was watching that game in the comfort of my living room last year, watching with joy as the Gophers piled up a tremendous lead. Eventually, the girlfriend said "Charlie, this game is over. Let's watch a movie." I agreed, and suffered through some painful romantic comedy. After it ended, I flipped on the 4-letter (ESPN) and saw coverage of the biggest collapse in college bowl history.

It was typical Glen Mason football: show some signs of life, before falling hard. And that epitomized the Gophers of 2006 (and the Mason era for that matter). The Insight Bowl debacle opened up old wounds: Think 4th quarter of Michigan 2003, for instance. But as we now look back almost one year later, we have to ask was it the right move?

I will say now that it looks in retrospect like a panic move. Had Maturi wanted to fire Mason all along, he should have done it prior to the bowl game. The dismissal after the Insight Bowl smacks of desperation--an AD who was getting hammered with e-mails suggesting he should have fired Mason earlier. An earlier dismissal would also have allowed a more thorough coaching search process. The late dismissal forced the Gophers athletic department into near panic mode to find a new coach, as national signing day was less than 40 days away at the time. We ended up with Tim Brewster, who has excelled in the recruiting department and sputtered on the sidelines. And Maturi had cause to fire Mason earlier. The Gophers started 3-6, and 0-5 in the Big Ten. What's more striking about Maturi's decision making is that he fired Mason almost exaclty one year from the day he signed the coach to a contract extension. That meant that Mason received a $3.6 million parting gift. There's something to be said about giving an embattled coach a vote of confidence, it's something far different to give him that type of security without earning it.

Overall, I think I can speak for the majority of Minnesota fans in saying that Glen Mason's firing was a welcome developement. Could it have been handled better? Yes. Earlier? Yes. Did Maturi make the right decision? Yes. Did it look like a decision made out of panic? Absolutely. Are we better off now? That jury is still out. But I'll say this. As a Gophers fan, I was tired of Mason's excuses and the fact that he was apparently OK with mediocrity. Maturi and University President Robert Bruininks said they felt the football program needed a "new voice."

As the year in review continues, I'll take a look at their replacement for Glen Mason and examine whether or not they hired the right "voice."


lurker said...

Maturi is a goofball. That's all.

Anonymous said...

Don't pretend like you don't love romantic comedies, PJS, I can see through your lies!

lonebadger said...

Joel Maturi was a high school teacher of mine and I have watched his ascension fron ADA at Wisconsin out to Denver, then Miami(OH), and back to his home state of Minnesota. Besides being highly respected by his peers and coworkers he is, in my opinion, a good and decent human being. Check his bio and check out the programs he has overseen and their production during his tenure. (All while operating in the black I might add.) His firing of Mason and subsequent hiring of Brewster looks questionable right now but the jury is definitely still out on that one. You guys are building a new stadium for cryin out loud! Do you have any idea how difficult that is to accomplish? Me neither, but it doesn't sound easy! You guys are lucky to have him.

PJS said...

LB, I don't doubt that Maturi is a good guy. I've exchanged emails with him before and I've been amazed at how quickly he responds. I'm just one alum, he doesn't have to respond. But he does. Every time.

That said, I can still disagree with how the Mason dismissal was handled. In the long-term, it can still be the best play. But his handling of the situation did cost the U millions and made the coaching search a rushed one.

You're not going to like the second entry in the Year in Review, lonebadger.

lonebadger said...

Well, it's a good thing he has the hiring of Tubby Smith to fall back on.