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Post Tip of the cap to Glen Mason, ten years later

Thursday July 20, 2006

For most Georgia fans, the name Glen Mason evokes unpleasant memories about the mess that was Georgia football in the mid-1990s. In these parts, Mason is more a bit of trivia than a football coach taken seriously. I would imagine that many Dawg fans are relieved that some midwesterner who managed moderate success at Kansas and Minnesota didn’t get his hands on this program. But I’ve got to give him some credit.

Some of the other Dawg blawgs like Georgia Sports Blog and DawgSports were kicking around numbers on which states produced the most NFL talent. The states you’d expect showed up at the top of the list, and Georgia was in a respectable position right up among the best.

Among the states with the fewest players in the NFL were Kansas and Minnesota. And one man has had success with the flagship football program of both of those states: Glen Mason. First, he took lowly Kansas and had four winning seasons in the early 1990s including a 10-2 mark in 1995 which attracted Georgia attention. Now he’s turned Minnesota into a respectable mid-tier Big 10 program.

Winning in the upper midwest is a tough assignment. Colin Cowherd maintains, and I agree, that Barry Alvarez will always be criminally underrated for the job he did at Wisconsin. He took a weak program in a talent-poor state and turned it into a program that played for Rose Bowl titles, produced Heisman-quality backs, and established themselves among New Year’s Day bowl regulars. At least Wisconsin had a rabid fan base and a place in college lore with its fight song and band.

Minnesota has none of that. It lies on the periphery of the Big 10 and, though it plays for axes and jugs and whatever else they use for trophys up there, there’s just not much tradition. They too lie in a relatively talent-poor state, they play in a dismal dome, and they’re typically….well, bad. There are a few homegrown success stories such as Marion Barber, but they’re pretty scarce.

Now Mason hasn’t taken the Gophers to the Rose Bowl, and they haven’t really been able to take the next step beyond the 7-4 or so plateau. But even that level of success, given what he has to work with up in the frozen tundra, is quite solid. He’s found a way to win games behind a bruising running attack, and his team will head to a bowl game in most years. They’re capable of knocking off the better teams in the Big 10, though they won’t do it every week. That’s pretty rare air for Minnesota. Actually, it’s only a win or two a year away from what Georgia had in the late 1990s while working with much less.

A lot of coaches wouldn’t even touch Kansas or Minnesota – they aren’t high profile, the fan base isn’t particularly rabid, and they are stuck in some pretty competitive conferences. We don’t know how Mason would have done in the SEC, and though his turnarounds have been steady, they haven’t been immediate. Georgia fans wouldn’t have had much patience especially given the lack of name recognition. Still, as we enter the 2006 season ten years after the season Mason was to have started at Georgia, I have to tip my cap at the job he’s done and continued to do. He’s earned a good measure of respect as a coach.

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