Mason: Contract talks ‘never been initiated by me’

Aaron Blake

Minnesota football coach Glen Mason would not offer any thoughts Tuesday concerning a possible contract extension, saying the talks aren’t his doing.

“That’s never been initiated by me,” Mason said. “It wasn’t the first time, it wasn’t this time, and it won’t be the next time.”

Mason, who is wrapping up the fourth year of a seven-year contract signed in March 2000, will sit down with Athletics Director Joel Maturi in the next few days to discuss the contract extension.

Although he would not comment on the possible extension, Mason made a point to explain how far the football program has come in his seven years.

“Look at the recent history of Minnesota football,” Mason said. “It’s a lot better now.

“If, God forbid, I die today or retire tomorrow – which I’m not going to do – there would be a lot of interest in this program.”

Mason moved over the .500 mark at Minnesota with a 9-3 campaign this season. He is 43-40 in his tenure with the Gophers.

With a bye in the final week of the regular season, Mason and his players await this Saturday’s games and their ensuing bowl game fate.

In the past weeks, Mason’s name has surfaced in conjunction with coaching vacancies such as the one at Arizona.

Throughout his head coaching career, Mason has prided himself on bringing programs up from the basement of college football, reviving teams at both Kent State and Kansas before venturing north to Minnesota.

This year’s bowl game will be Minnesota’s fourth in five years under Mason, who inherited a team with a 10-year bowl drought in 1997.

But despite the program’s improved status compared to eight years ago, Maturi has expressed his disappointment that the program could not take the next step this season by advancing to one of the Big Ten’s top three bowl games.

Axe to be donated to hall

Minnesota and Wisconsin combined to announce Tuesday that the original Paul Bunyan Axe will be donated to the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.

Including the 37-34 Gophers victory Nov. 8, the teams have played each other 113 times – the most matchups between any two teams in Division I-A history.

Minnesota leads the all-time series 59-46-8.

Injuries “caught up to us”

Mason said the recent rash of injuries his team has encountered was bound to happen.

“I think it just caught up to us Saturday,” he said.

Tight end Ben Utecht, one of eight finalists for the John Mackey Award, and safety Justin Isom did not play, Asad Abdul-Khaliq played with a hurt left shoulder, and Marion Barber III and Paul Nixon were both injured during the game.

Preliminary indications were that Barber’s groin injury is not serious, and Mason said Abdul-Khaliq played well Saturday.

Paris to go bowling?

The Gophers’ coach said junior college transfer wide receiver Paris Hamilton, who sat out this whole season after having surgery on his left knee, has an “outside chance” at playing in whatever bowl game the team goes to.

“I’m not counting on it,” Mason said. “But he’s getting better and he’s working hard, and we’ll definitely have him for spring practice. It’s, first and foremost, a medical decision. That’s what they’re saying – he’s getting close.”

Kaeding, Sanders awarded

Iowa kicker Nate Kaeding and safety Bob Sanders were both honored as Big Ten players of the week for their performances in the Hawkeyes’ 40-22 win over the Gophers on Saturday.

Kaeding tied career highs with four field goals, 16 points and a 55-yarder at the end of the first half to earn co-special teams player of the week.

He is one of three finalists for the 2003 Lou Groza Award, honoring the nation’s top placekicker. Kaeding won the award in 2002.

Sanders was all over the place on Saturday, recording 16 tackles, one for-loss, a sack, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Evans grabs 5 TDs, honor

Wisconsin wide receiver Lee Evans tied a Big Ten record by catching five touchdown passes in the Badgers’ 56-21 victory over Michigan State on Saturday.

The senior also caught 10 balls for 258 yards in the game, garnering conference offensive player of the week accolades.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around anyone who has stronger hands than he does,” Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. “I thought Saturday was vintage Lee Evans. Some of the catches he made just with his hands because of how strong they were. Then Ö he catches the ball and is able to accelerate and turn into a runner.”