Mason gets players’ immediate vote

Michael Rand

Until Tuesday morning, most members of the Gophers football team will virtually know the same as the general public about the man hired to take the struggling program out of the Big Ten basement.
Because the hiring of Glen Mason happened over winter break, the new coach hasn’t had a chance to talk to more than a handful of players. A combination of players being gone for the holidays and Mason working at a frenzied pace to get acclimated at his new job has kept the two sides apart.
In a telephone interview Friday from Cleveland — where Mason was on a recruiting trip — the former Kansas coach said he “wasn’t really settled in yet” and had been “living in a hotel.”
When Mason and his staff meet with the team on Tuesday, it will be an opportunity for all parties to get acquainted with each other. For now, the new coach and his players are dealing with first impressions — encounters which, although brief, were encouraging.
Parc Williams, a junior linebacker who will be one of four captains next season, said he met Mason at the press conference in which the coach was hired.
“I didn’t have much chance to talk with him, but he seemed like a nice guy,” Williams said.
Most of the players’ impressions came from second-hand sources, such as newspaper articles and television reports.
“I was relieved when we found a coach,” Williams said. “He was kind of out of the blue as far as what was in the papers, but he was a nice surprise.”
Senior defensive tackle Raymond Baylor said he caught bits and pieces of Mason’s press conference on the local news.
He said the new coach’s attitude impressed him.
“When I heard he was kind of cocky and had a confident attitude, that made me feel good,” Baylor said. “My expectations are higher than they were before. He wants to come in and win from the start instead of rebuilding slowly, and that’s good.”
With his next season being his final year of eligibility, Baylor said it was important to him personally that the new coach wanted to win right away.
“I’m anxious to get in and start learning his system. I’m a senior, so I don’t have the convenience of taking a year or two to learn and get better,” Baylor said. “This is going to be the biggest year of my life in terms of football. I’m going to go out and try to make things happen.”
Mason’s successful rebuilding efforts at Kent State (7-4 in his second year) and Kansas (10-2 and a No. 9 ranking in 1995) also got the attention of players.
Williams was well aware of Mason’s track record.
“The expectations (to win) have always been here, but now we have a new coach and new life,” Williams said. “Our goal is to keep getting better this year and get to a bowl game.”
Of course, the initial adjustments could take time. Aside from two holdovers from ex-coach Jim Wacker’s staff — Gordon Shaw and Kevin Sumlin — the team has an entirely new set of assistants.
“We had a different defensive staff last year, but it will be entirely different with a new head coach,” Williams said. “The head man sets the tone for the team.”
Tuesday morning, Mason will begin setting that tone, with the hopes of creating another winner.