Mason must win now or face the consequences

In 1997, the Gophers athletics department hired Glen Mason to restore the football program to respectability. Six years and millions of dollars later, Minnesota still has not won a Big Ten championship. In fact, they haven’t won one since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House.

In the time Mason has been at the helm of the football program, his record shows the following: three wins in 21 games against ranked opponents, one win in three trips to extremely minor bowls, and an overall 34-37 record (17-31 in the Big Ten). The high point of Mason’s tenure was a miraculous win. In 1999, his team went into Happy Valley and beat then No. 2 Penn State 24-23 on a field goal as time expired, in what would eventually be regarded as the biggest upset of the 1999 college football season.

This kind of account can only bring one name to the minds of longtime Gophers football fans – a name that sounds like a cross between a sneeze and a German army command: “Gutekunst!”

John Gutekunst was the head coach of the Gophers from 1986-1991. He was unceremoniously fired after the 1991 season because of his lack of success. Gutey, as he was known, remains somewhat of a joke around the Gophers program and among Gophers fans; after Mason’s first season in charge (a 3-9 death march that included a two-touchdown loss to Hawaii in what was surely the worst game played in college football that season), my father shrugged and said, “At least he’s not Gutekunst.”

But examination of the records show the following: in his six seasons at the helm, Gutekunst fashioned a 18-28-2 Big Ten record, winning one more game than Mason has managed to win in the same number of years. Gutekunst had a 1-13 record against ranked teams, comparable to Mason’s 3-18 record. Gutekunst only went to one bowl game (and coached another in 1985 when former coach Lou Holtz left for Notre Dame before the bowl was played), compared to Mason’s three; but there were fewer bowl games in the late 1980s than there are now. Mason’s teams would also have only made it to one bowl game if there were a comparable number of bowls.

Gutekunst also had a comparable “big win” to Mason’s Penn State triumph. In 1986, the Gophers went into Ann Arbor, Mich., and beat then No. 2 Michigan 20-17, one of only two times in the last 45 years that the Gophers have beaten the Wolverines for the Little Brown Jug.

There are, however, several big differences between Gutekunst and Mason. Gutekunst was paid commensurate with his status as the coach of a slipping program. Mason, however, as of 2001, was paid $1.3 million per year, easily in the top echelon of college football coaches nationwide. Gutekunst’s teams usually played a decent nonconference schedule, regularly taking on such powers as Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado. Mason has always scheduled a cupcake nonconference schedule, with teams like Memphis State, Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas State appearing on the list. (One wonders if Gutey would have stuck around longer if he had had the foresight to schedule Tulsa every year instead of facing Nebraska.)

The main difference between the two: Mason was asked back for a seventh season.

I mention all of this for one reason: to point out that it’s time for Mason to win something or leave. Mason has declared that this season’s edition of the Gophers is the best football team he’s ever been around.

It had better be. If his team does not make the long-awaited run at the Big Ten title, then Mason must go.

It’s my sincere hope that the Gophers will be playing in a New Year’s Day bowl game this season. If they don’t, I would suggest this to the athletics department: Hire Gutekunst, who is now coaching defensive backs at South Carolina. He produced the same dismal, failing record that Mason has produced – but I bet he could do it at half the price.

Jon Marthaler is a management information systems senior. He welcomes comments at [email protected]