Gophers hope to hit
the ground running
New coach Glen MasonBy Paul Arnett
turned around two other teams
with a physical style
The last time Glen Mason landed in Hawaii, the new University of Minnesota coach took a wrong turn and just kept going.
Instead of accepting the head coaching job at the University of Georgia in December of 1995, Mason did an about-face on the Bulldogs and decided if he ever looked for his heart's desire it wouldn't be beyond his own back yard in Kansas.
Even though the Jayhawks responded to Mason's change of heart with a thorough 51-30 thrashing of UCLA in the Aloha Bowl, things quickly soured.
Kansas finished 10-2 that season with a No. 9 national ranking. But after his little two-step between Athens and Lawrence, the good folks of Kansas weren't in the mood for a victory parade. He departed the same way he came in -- with a losing record.
Now Mason returns to the islands with a new outlook.
Granted, Minnesota bears little resemblance to the two Kansas programs that won Aloha Bowls in 1992 and 1995. But don't look for the Gophers to flounder long.
If Mason can do some major home improvements at such programs as Kent State and Kansas, then he knows what he needs to fix up Minnesota, a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1990 and hasn't been involved in postseason play since the 1986 Liberty Bowl.
Mason took over for Jim Wacker in March. While Wacker was one who would pat you on the butt after making a mistake, Mason is more likely to kick you in the butt and tell you to not make it again.
He is what University of Hawaii defensive coordinator Don Lindsey calls a hard-nosed football coach, born and bred in Big Ten country, where you run on first and second downs, and pass on third, only if necessary.
"On offense, we've got to continue to develop our run," Mason said. "It was a priority I made when I came here.
"Why? Two reasons. My basic philosophy is I think you have to be able to run the football when you look at the big picture and you see what it takes to win in the Big Ten. And No. 2, well, let's face it, Minnesota hasn't been an effective rushing team the last couple of years.
"I also believe in the elimination of mistakes, mistakes that you can control. I'm talking about missed assignments. I'm talking about foolish penalties. You wind up beating yourself, instead of your opponent beating you. I think we need to become a more physical team on offense and a better fundamental team on defense."
The Gophers spent the entire spring and fall camps trying to do just that. The days of passing the ball all over town are gone.
Just ask senior quarterback Cory Sauter. He has been called upon to run the speed option in recent practices. This from a guy who passed for 2,578 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
That's not to say Mason doesn't believe in the forward pass. Quite the contrary. But he's of the opinion you set up the pass via the run, not the other way around.
He also believes that the defense must stop the run. This is not a demand from some guy on the tower yelling through a bull horn, this is from a coach who might just strap on the helmet and challenge you to do it right.
In 1996, Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in rushing and total defense, yielding 246.5 and 409.5 yards a game, respectively. That won't be allowed under Mason's watch, something defensive coordinator David Gibbs knows well.
"I think Minnesota has been down on defense for so long, you have to start with the team concept," the 29-year-old Gibbs said. "We have to stop people and give the offense the football. We can't let opposing offenses control the football or have 15-, 18-play drives.
"We've got to find ways to get our offense on the field. In order to do that, you have to stop an opponent's running attack. And in the Big Ten, easier said than done."
Of equal importance is for Minnesota to establish a running game. The Gophers were No. 1 in the league in passing last season, averaging 233.4 yards a game, but last in rushing offense (104.1) and ninth in total offense (338.45).
"I think physically, we're a better offensive football team," Minnesota offensive coordinator Elliot Uzelac said. "We have a much better running game this year than last year.
"Obviously, the line loves it because they love run blocking. Our entire team knows we have to do a better job of running the football because we need to take time off the clock and we need to do things to help the defense."
A peaceful coexistence between these two phases of the game would go a long way in helping Mason establish a new attitude.
"Our guys worked hard all spring and summer, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us," he said. "I'm nervous about this game because of the unknowns. But I'm also anxious to see how we respond to playing on the road in our opener."
See also, Notebook
UH Rainbow Warrior