HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
January 8, 2007

Am I dreaming?

By Aaron Schultz

As I sat on the couch New Year’s Eve day, watching another miserable day of Minnesota Viking football, I got a call.

My brother (Cullen) called me up and asked if I had heard the news? Wondering to myself “now what?,” I said no.

He then proceeded to tell me that WCCO radio was reporting that the Gophers had called a news conference for 5 p.m., and that they were going to announce the firing of University of Minnesota football coach Glen Mason.

I asked Cullen if he was pulling my leg, and he said he wasn’t. Was I dreaming?

So, to the Internet I went, and there I found that what I was hearing was true. Right there, on the screen at wcco.com, was the headline that the “U” had called a news conference, and it was reported that Mason was gone.

I immediately told my dad, who I was watching football with, and he was a little shocked himself. Still, neither of us was completely sold until after watching the news conference at 5 p.m.

It was really, really true. I couldn’t believe it.

In the span of less than a month, U of M athletic director Joel Maturi had finally heard my pleas and fired two of the three men I thought had needed to be fired. The third being Maturi, himself.

But, as far as Maturi is now concerned, I will give him a pass since he finally came to the realization that we all knew he needed to come to.

For some time now I have been writing periodic columns calling for both Mason and Monson to get the axe. However, I decided to hold off writing a column when Monson was canned, for no real good reason.

With that said, I had no intention of passing, this time around, on the Mason firing, someone who has caused me to lose much of my hair in his 10 years at the “U.”
No kidding, think about it, and I did. Looking back at photos of myself 10 years ago, back in 1997, I had a full head of hair.

Fast forward 10 years later to today, and take a look at my head without my hat.

Yep, not much there.

Of course, I won’t put all the blame for my hair loss on Mason, alone. There are also my kids that I coach in baseball – they have definitely had a helping hand.

Maybe with Mason gone, my hair will start growing back? Hey, I think I see some new hairs coming in as I write.

Alright, enough about my hair loss, and back to “Mr. Smug.”

Mason had his moments at Minnesota, and really did a good job taking over a program that former coach Jim Wacker had left pretty poor.

With that said, Mason never got over the hump, and it just looked like he never was going to.

After some of his comments over the years, and about a hundred other things, I had my mind made up that he needed to go at least four years ago.

While I can’t remember all of those other things, there are a few that really stick out in my mind, and I’ll tell you what they are.

First off, his comment about always answering the phone if it rang, in reference to other job openings.

There was the Georgia job, and the big one at Ohio State, his alma mater.

From day one, it was always pretty clear that he was always looking for the next, better job, which got under my skin.

He also said one of my favorite comments I had ever heard when he said that he hasn’t had enough time to complete his rebuilding program. Yep, 10 years in and he was just getting started, sweet.

Then, there were poor clock management moments, which seemed to happen game after game.

Alright, not game after game, since there were a number of games that they were blown out in, but you get the point.

The worst one, for me, was a game I didn’t even get to watch – the Michigan game a couple years back.

Mason had the Gophers going good, and were in position to finally crack the top three, or maybe even higher, in the Big 10 standings.

I was up in Holdingford covering the Lakers’ football game, and at halftime of that game, came out to my car to hear the score on the radio.

The Gophers were up big on Michigan in the Metrodome, and it looked like this was finally going to be the year.

Back taking photos of the Lakers, I still remember it as clear as day as my mind continued to wander to thoughts on the Gophers actually beating the mighty Wolverines.

After the Lakers’ game, I jumped in my car and headed home, listening on the radio, and debating if I was going to stop in St. Cloud to watch the end of the game.

Well, by the time I got to St. Cloud, I had that eerie feeling that Mason would find a way to blow it, and decided to just keep heading back home.

By the time I reached Winsted, the Gophers had blown the lead, and lost the game.
I couldn’t believe it, and that was it for me – Mason needed to go.

Sure, I still watched nearly every Gopher game on TV, and attended a couple of games, but it was never really the same.

There were times after the Michigan game that I let myself get fooled by Mason again, shame on me.

One of those times was in 2005, when the Gophers hosted hated Wisconsin.

I went to the game with Otis (Marc Kohler), and the Gophers controlled most of the game, and it was a blast.

Otis and I even had the Phil Kessel chant going since we were sitting in the Wisconsin section.

Then it happened again, the Gophers blew it, losing in the final seconds.

Even though this loss could hardly be blamed on Mason, it still had to be.

See, I believe that, like Vikings’ head coach Brad Childress wants to bring a culture of accountability to the Vikings – Mason brought a culture of finding a way to lose to the Gophers.

By the way, after the Gophers lost that Wisconsin game, Otis and I heard our share of ribbing from the Badger faithful, and as Gopher fans, we deserved it; all Gopher fans deserved it.

As I think back to the decade of Mason, more and more painful memories keep coming back to me.

In fact, I better skip ahead to this year or this column is going to end up being more like a book.

Then 2006 happened, and if anyone still had any doubts about Mason needing to go, those doubts should have been answered.

The season started out like most Mason seasons, with his Gophers beating up on a few crappy, non-conference opponents.

This season was slightly different, as the Gophers actually played against a tough non-conference team in the California Bears. A game they were blown out in.

The Big 10 season was similar to most, as they got beat by all the teams that should have beat them, which was pretty much everybody, but the ultimate shock came against our neighbors to the northwest.

Hosting the mighty Division I-AA North Dakota State Bison, the Gophers pulled out a very lucky win when the Bison missed a last-second field goal.

In the game, the Gophers were badly outplayed by one of my alma matters, but good old Mason was able to pull it out.

Following a beat-down by Ohio State the next week, Minnesota won three in-a-row to qualify for a bowl game at 6-6.

Yippee, a bowl game. But heck, it was one more game, and one more reason to rip on Mason.

Little did I know how important it was for Minnesota to make that bowl game.

Leading up to the bowl, there was Christmas, and my parents got me exactly what I wanted, a “Fire Mason” T-shirt.

I wore that shirt watching the bowl game against Texas Tech, and when the Gophers started taking the lead, I told my uncle I would turn it inside out if they went up by 21 points.

Well, sure s#$t, the Gophers went up by as many as 31 points, and my shirt was inside out.

Yep, Mason fooled me again. The entire second half belonged to Texas Tech, and before I knew it, I had turned my shirt back the right way, and watched the Gophers blow the biggest lead in bowl history, losing in overtime to the Red Raiders.

Same old Mason, and I figured, as I headed home after the game thinking, that I would have to suffer through another decade or so of this misery.

At least, the basketball team had some hope coming in the next few years – that, along with the always-strong hockey team, would be able to keep me occupied while the football team continued to flounder.

That brought us to Mason’s firing, and the joy all Gopher fans must feel.

Will the next coach bring the Gophers to the next level, or will it be another Wacker? Who knows?

But, at least for the first time in a number of years, there should be some optimism for the future.

Lastly, I would like to thanks Mason for giving me tons of material to write about over the years.

Who will be able to replace all that material? What’s that? Did I hear that maybe the Sheriff is coming back to town?

I guess, we’ll have to stay tuned.