Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Tradition Like No Other

Earlier this month, I wrote about the coming of football season, the yearly turning of the seasonal clock from the high noon of summer to the early evening of autumn that signifies the beginning of football.

It is a yearly tradition, as regular as clockwork.

So, too, is this tradition: it is time for my yearly column ripping apart Gopher football coach Glen Mason.

The impetus for this year's "Fire Mason" column is an interview that appeared in "Minnesota: The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association." (Proud member of the UMAA since '04, this blog.) It appeared in Q&A format, five good questions from Rick Moore, followed by five answers that made me progressively angrier.

The first question asked Mason if he agreed with the ever-optimistic Joel Maturi, who said that the Gophers were not that far away from a conference championship. Mason's response: "We've been a blink of an eye away from really being a serious contender on a number of occasions."

Oh, great. We've been close to being a CONTENDER. Yeah, most years, if we'd just won three more Big Ten games....

Five of nine years, the Gophers have not finished within three wins of the Big Ten champion. Only thrice have they finished within two wins of the champion. Never have they finished only one game back of the winners. You heard me. Never. Never have they finished in the top three in the conference. Never.

So we were close to being contenders three of nine years. Excuse me while I start sculpting the Mason statue for Gibson-Nagurski.

Another question asked Mason whether he felt more pressure from the fans or from himself. Mason gave a long, rambling answer that ended with: "... We've had a credible product; we've had the best offensive production that this school's ever seen and was tops in the conference."

So, take heart, Gopher fans! We may be finishing seventh in the conference every season, but the WAC is mailing us an honorary membership card.

Two of the questions didn't really hit hard - asking Mason what he does for fun (he responds with a story about how he likes to taunt media members on the golf course, by the way - nice guy, that Mason) and one which served as an excuse for Mason to talk about how difficult the conference was. So two softballs and two fastballs, and two instances of Mason trying to spin the truth and failing.

The kicker, though, was this one: "When it comes to recruiting, are you hampered by anything inherent to Minnesota or the University?"

In past years, this was also a softball, giving Mason a chance to use his pet excuse: no stadiums, no wins. Sensing that this was no longer a fallback, given that this fall's recruiting class should spend their senior year in the New Brick House, he reaches way back to his other favorite excuse: Minnesota high school football sucks.

Here's his answer: "I think that the biggest obstacle in recruiting is that we are foced to recruit a large number of players from a long distance away. We have some awful good programs and some awful good players in the state; however, we don't have an abundance of them. There are some states that will produce six to 15 times the number of Division 1 players than we do on a yearly basis, and when you're confronted with signing 20 to 25 players per year, that dictates that you're going to have to get on planes and recruit from far distance away. I think the farther you go away from campus, the more difficult it is to recruit."

On the surface, it makes sense - he implies that it's hardly his fault that he has crap to work with at home, that he's got to put together a program from the shards of other states while every other school sits fat and happy on a local talent base. It couldn't possibly be that he's a poor recruiter, could it?

Let's check the facts. Iowa and Wisconsin, the two most comparable schools to Minnesota, have both won a pair of Big Ten titles since Mason moved to town.

Minnesota has 47 players from in-state, exactly 47% of those on the roster. 37 (37%) players come from "long-distance" states. Seems like a lot, right?

Iowa has 37 in-staters (35%) and 45 from long-distance (43%). Wisconsin has 46 from home (43%) and 43 long-distance (38%).

That's right, among these three programs, Minnesota has the most players from in-state and has been forced to "get on a plane" for the fewest.

I'm not going to follow Mason's lead and subtly imply things. Either this means that Minnesota talent is worse than Iowa or Wisconsin talent, and the problem is that Mason can't make up the difference with out-of-state recruiting; or that Mason's getting worse out-of-state talent than Iowa or Wisconsin are. Either way, the facts make a strong case that the problem is simply that Mason's a horrible recruiter.

Here's the truth: The Gophers are better under Mason than they were under Jim Wacker, but they are by no means good. They have been consistently mediocre, and have not only not won anything, have never even contended for anything. It's easy to see that Iowa and Wisconsin are in similar situations, recruiting-wise, and yet have won titles and contended for others.

Things are not improving, Gopher fans. It's time to face the harsh truth: this is as high as the Mason elevator goes - seventh place in an average year, fourth in a good one. If we as fans are happy with avoiding the bottom of the conference, then Mason is our man. If, however, we are like me and dream of better things and Big Ten titles, then it's time to find someone else to lead us.

Let's all say it together: Fire Mason!


Jess said...

I have to admit that at first, I was thrilled at Mason at least brining the Gophers back from being a laughingstock of the Big Ten. I wouldn't have gone to games when I was in undergrad if I hadn't had friends playing. It was bad news.

But the consistent mediocrity is starting to getting old, fast. Especially when I have to listen to my Badgers and Hawkeye-fan friends gloat.

jmag said...

Amen and amen. Mase is not only an arrogant blowhard, but one of the WORST in-game coaches I've ever seen. I've NEVER seen even ONE in-game or half-time adjustment. EVER. Now that we have no good running backs, we're going to suck more than normal. FIRE MASON!