Minneapolis — A year ago football coach Glen Mason was a hero when the Minnesota Golden Gophers won five of their first six games, including their first victory at Michigan since 1986.
The Gophers then lost a heartbreaker to Wisconsin on a last-minute blocked punt, lost a competitive game to Ohio State and went on to beat Indiana and Michigan State before losing to Iowa in the season finale.
The 7-4 regular-season record was successful enough that university officials decided to give former Kansas University coach Mason a five-year extension on his contract. Now some of the people in the media who never have stepped on the Gibson-Nagurski practice field or know anything about the football program are calling for him to be discharged.
Well, if you want to look back into the history of the program, you would conclude that Mason has done as good a job as almost any other Gophers football coach. It seems most other Gophers coaches who were hired because they ran winning programs elsewhere stumbled here.
Jim Wacker, whom Mason replaced, is a good example of a coach with a great winning record before coaching the Gophers - 144-91-3 at Texas Lutheran, North Dakota State, Southwest Texas State and TCU. At Minnesota, he was 16-39 from 1992-96.
Joe Salem, one of the smartest offensive coaches I have ever encountered, was 77-55-2 at South Dakota and Northern Arizona but came in here with a limited budget that wouldn't allow him to hire replacement coaches after his run-and-shoot offense had attracted attention all over the country. The result was, after a good start, Salem finished 19-35-1 from 1979-83.
Lou Holtz was 10-12 here in 1984-85 after being 104-51-4 at William & Mary, North Carolina State and Arkansas.
Cal Stoll was 39-39 at Minnesota from 1972-78 after being 15-17 at Wake Forest, but one reason he was hired is that the Demon Deacons won the ACC title in 1970.
Mason is 61-55 here after re-building two terrible programs - Kent State and Kansas - combining for a 59-64-1 record.
No doubt the presence of the Vikings here makes this a tougher coaching job than any other in the Big Ten. The Vikings draw attention away from the Gophers. But from a recruiting standpoint, the presence of the Vikings should appeal to a good football player who has pro ambitions.
Some complain about Mason's public relations ability. But public relations never makes any difference when a coach wins.
Mason has been able to compete, defeating Penn State four times, beating Ohio State in 2000 for the first time since 1949 and breaking the 16-game winning streak of Michigan over the Gophers by beating the Wolverines last season.
Changing coaches is not the answer here.
What is needed is the building up of interest on campus like it was before the Clem Haskins basketball scandal developed. Maybe the new stadium will help recruiting. The cupboard is not bare. This is a very young football team with not a single senior starting on defense and only three on offense.