KU will face the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2008 Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
Although hardly the focal point of the Insight Bowl, the subtle ironies involving Glen Mason shouldn’t be ignored.
When Kansas and Minnesota were selected as the Insight participants, Mason’s name quickly surfaced because those are the two schools where he spent the bulk of his 21 years as a college head coach — 10 years in the Twin Cities and nine on Mount Oread.
Underlying that obvious connection, however, is the fact Mason’s last game as a head coach — unless he’s still considered hirable at age 58 — was at the 2006 Insight Bowl. And it wasn’t so much that Texas Tech tripped Minnesota, 44-41, in overtime, it was how the Red Raiders did it.
Minnesota led, 38-7, early in the third quarter, then collapsed. No team in bowl history had ever blown a 31-point lead and the outcry was deafening in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Two days after that stunning defeat, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi fired Mason, saying the program needed “a new vision and a new voice” even though a year earlier Maturi had rewarded Mason with a five-year contract,
Two aspects of Mason’s firing struck me as ironic.
One, Mason had presided over the biggest comeback in Kansas history — a 50-47 victory at Iowa State in 1992. KU wiped out a 26-point deficit in that one. And two, Texas Tech was the opponent when Kansas blew its biggest lead ever. In 2004, KU led the Red Raiders 30-5 just before halftime and lost, 31-30.
Mark Mangino was the Jayhawks’ head coach during that ’04 swoon, but it happened in the fourth game of the season and was quickly forgotten two weeks later when KU ended its 11-year losing streak against Kansas State.
Timing is everything and if college football had 10 Commandments, one of them would surely be: Thou Shalt Not Tank in a Bowl Game.
Then again, Mason’s tailspin against Tech may have been merely a catalyst. Coaches at non-traditional powers seldom have long shelf lives and Mason’s stints at Minnesota and Kansas exceeded the norm. Basically, they simply grow tired of you after awhile, and begin to look for excuses to get rid of you.
This is Mark Mangino’s seventh season at Kansas. Thus he is approaching the stage where familiarity leads to more second-guessing, where they start grousing, “Yeah, he went 12-1 in ’07, but what has he done for us lately?”
The only way to avoid the grumbling is to win, win, win, and can Kansas do that in the Big 12 Conference every year? I’m not saying Kansas can’t, but history says it will be difficult.
At the same time, a coach’s off-the-field relationship with boosters, casual fans and the media can be an X factor. Mason, for example, was seen as distant and aloof by many fans and had a spotty relationship with the media.
Mangino, meanwhile, maintains a low profile during the off-season. He’s known for having a volatile temper, but he rarely displays it in public, or in front of the media. At times, he can be quite outgoing.
Remember this, though: No man has ever coached football at Kansas for more than nine years.