Mason up for coaching award

Glen Mason has been added to the watch list for a prestigious coaching award, much to the surprise of some of the fans who turn out (or don't) to watch his team. And small crowds might have an effect on which bowl invitations the Gophers receive after this season.

Mason is a candidate for the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year award for 2003. The award winner will be announced at halftime of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Jan. 2, 2004. Mason is in his seventh year at the U of M and 18th overall as a head coach in Division I, and is poised to win his 100th career game on Saturday if the reeling Gophers can right the ship and beat Illinois.

The only other Big Ten coach on the list of nine finalists is Michigan's Lloyd Carr.

The news might come as a surprise to the many fans grumbling about Mason in the Metrodome the past two weeks or calling talk radio shows to blast the coach. Locally, he's become a lightning rod for criticism any time the Gophers fail to reach expectations, but nationally Mason's reputation remains strong.

Unfortunately for Mason, the locals comprise the ticket-buying base, and after the fourth-quarter collapse against Michigan, the fans stayed away from the Metrodome in droves. The U of M sold some 25,000 fewer tickets for the Michigan State game a week later, and with bowl representatives in the crowd, that's a bad sign for those hoping Minnesota will be invited to a major New Year's Day bowl.

As today's Star Tribune reported, Minnesota AD Joel Maturi expects the Gophers to be skipped over in favor of lower finishing but better traveling schools. For example, in 1999 the Gophers fell to the Sun Bowl after the Outback and Alamo invited Purdue and Penn State, even though Minnesota finished ahead of both of those schools in the Big Ten standings.

"If we draw the way we do, we will be stepped over," Maturi told the Star Tribune. "That's going to happen. I don't blame anybody for it. I feel badly for the kids and the coaches. We probably won't play in the bowl where we deserve to play in. It's understandable. It's the reality of what we're dealing with."

Minnesota has two home games left – Nov. 1 against Indiana, which should draw well because it's homecoming, and Nov. 8 against Wisconsin. The Badger game should be played before a full house, but that won't necessarily help Minnesota's stature with the bowls, as half the fans will be wearing red and cheering for Wisconsin.

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