Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Column: Mason an expert on Kansas turnaround

Former Colorado and Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel, left, and former KU coach Glen Mason, who went 47-54-1 from 1988-1996.

Former Colorado and Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel, left, and former KU coach Glen Mason, who went 47-54-1 from 1988-1996.


One of the many things Kansas University’s interim football coach Clint Bowen said that resonated during his Monday introductory news conference was that he is prepared for this job because he witnessed turn-around efforts under Glen Mason and Mark Mangino.

“I think that what Clint said is pertinent,” Mason said Tuesday by phone from Chicago, where his Big Ten Network duties had taken him. “He has some insight to what it takes.”

Mason’s insights on the topic extend beyond Kansas.

“I was part of a turnaround program as an assistant in some places and I was the head coach at Kent State when we turned it around, but to be quite frank with you, when I went to Kansas, I really had no idea what bad shape the program was in, a lot worse than I had envisioned,” Mason said.

Losing programs have contacted Mason to test his interest after he was prematurely fired by Minnesota. After he thanks-but-no-thanked them, they sought advice and he shared it: “You better hire someone that has some stick-to-it-iveness because it’s not going to be easy. And if they’re going to get frustrated by every bump in the road, they’re probably not going to do it.”

Alumni never like to hear Mason’s next bit of advice, but with the exception of some in-state stars wanting to stay at home, it plays out the way he portrays.

“The teams that finish first pick first and the teams that finish last pick last,” Mason said. “So to think you’re going to arrive and all the sudden you’re going to out-recruit the Oklahomas of the world, that’s not going to happen. I remember distinctly when I took the job at Kansas and we didn’t have a lot of good linemen. I remember telling my staff, ‘Fellows, we really need to recruit offensive linemen. If you find a guy who’s 6-4, 280, and can really play, forget about him. We’re not going to get him. He’s going to go Oklahoma or go to Nebraska, he’s going to go to Ohio State or Michigan. On the other hand, if you find a guy who’s 6-4, 280 and we can get him, forget about him because he can’t play.’”

After telling his coaches what players not to look for, he told them what to seek.

“I want to recruit the guy that’s an inch too short, a step too slow, 10 pounds too light, but is a good football player and we’ll develop him,” Mason said. “Good, tough kids who can play the game. Look back at some of the kids we had when we turned the program around, that was the case.”

Mason’s first three KU teams went 1-10, 4-7, 3-7-1, but he made sure his players didn’t let the scoreboard make them feel like losers.

“People fail to realize that kids in losing programs work just as hard as kids in a winning program, maybe even harder,” Mason said. “But they’re not getting a return for their investment initially, so you as a coach have to make sure they’re getting a return, make sure they feel good about what they’re doing, that you reinforce the effort that they’re making, even though they might come up a little short on Saturday as far as the win-loss column.”

The hard work turned into a five-year, 35-23 run for Mason that included a 10-2 season and 51-30 victory against UCLA in the Aloha Bowl in 1995.

It took years. It almost always does. Bowen has eight games played over nine weeks. That’s not long enough to show anything, is it?

“Sure it is,” Mason said. “People that come to watch a game, there are three things that they expect. They expect the team to look well-coached. They expect the players to play with tremendous effort every down. And eventually, they’ll come to expect winning.”

Expectations were low when Mason took the job in 1988 and they’re not much higher at the moment.

“I remember when I first took the Kansas job, certain people said, ‘Coach if you can get 11 people on the field and don’t get a delay of game, that’s going to be an improvement.’ There are factors involved in coaching that have nothing to do with talent, and the less talent you have, the better you better be in those coaching areas,” he said.

Mason believes in Bowen.

“A lot of kids like football,” Mason said. “But there are really few kids who love football. Clint was one of those guys. When you progress through the ranks the way he did from graduate assistant, you don’t make those incremental advances unless you’re a good coach.”


Andy Tweedy 7 years, 10 months ago

I was on the hill for Mason's first two years and he was every bit the coach Mangino was. It never sat right with me that he seemed to want to move on so badly while he was here, but he's proof that progress doesn't always come in wins and losses. You could tell from his first game that his teams were tougher and more well prepared than those of his predecessor. So when I hear that Weiss or Gill or whoever has to have more time, I think back to those first two Mason teams and I think it's nonsense.

Chandler Accipiter 7 years, 10 months ago

Another thing to remember about the Mason era, that it was more difficult to go to bowl games. 11 game seasons, unless adding a special game (like sacraficing yourself to FSU), lower division wins didn't count towards bowl eligibility, and there weren't as many bowls, so 6 wins didn't guarantee anything.

Michael Maris 7 years, 10 months ago

I was always a big fan of Coach Mason. Still am. I enjoy seeing him on the Big Ten Network.

Stephen Johnson 7 years, 10 months ago

good article and right on target. I would love to see Bowen succeed.

Brian Skelly 7 years, 10 months ago

I attended KU during the early Mason years.     Even when his teams were bad, they were tough.    We had plenty of stinkers then,  but plenty of grind it out games as well.    Win or lose.    To me Mason's greatest asset was motivating players and recruiting (not unlike Mangino really).     He wasnt a particularly good game coach.    And at the time anyway,  an uber-conservative play caller.    To this day my friends and I joke about the Glen Mason offense - "Up the middle, Up the middle, Up the middle, punt".    Not coincidentally the year we went 10-2 and won our 2nd Aloha Bowl under Mason,  he'd given up play calling and let his OC do it.   
The irony to me is that his leaving led us to be out in the wilderness for years (not unlike Mangino's departure)... yet now what we're all clamoring for exactly what guys Mason and Mangino brought -- stability.
 KU will never ever be a football powerhouse.   Maintaining competitiveness and a going bowling every few years seems like what we should hope for realistically.    But we're still probably a few years from that.    Let's hope Coach Bowen starts the grinding slog back up.

Kevin Kelly 7 years, 10 months ago

And of course let us remember the 'Terry Allen offense' which was simply running the QB Draw 45 times a game.

Chandler Accipiter 7 years, 10 months ago

The big what if with Mason has to be, what if football would have gotten any administrative support in those first couple of seasons when progress was clearly being made? Mason had KU ahead of the curve when it came to competing with Snyder and KSU. KSU doubled down and invested in football. KU, well, had Roy and basketball. In the arms race of college football, KU sat out the 90's, so everything Mason and his staff did for KU football was earned the hard way. I remember after games anyone who fumbled that day would run up downs while carrying a ball on the the stadium...while still in uniform...with a coach yelling at them the whole time...when kids were running on the field throwing footballs around. I never faulted Mason for leaving. I just always wish that KU would have made it harder for him to leave.

Waylon Cook 7 years, 10 months ago

You nailed that! Roy wanted it all about him but whined about Terry Allen like nothing we have seen since! I bet Bill Self wants football as successful as possible so KU is always getting some "good" media coverage!

John Boyle 7 years, 10 months ago

Whine, Whine. Roy's basketball teams had nothing to do with the success or failure of the football team. You football guys have got to let that go. It's nonsense.

John Randall 7 years, 10 months ago

Well, I'm sure hogging every resource the department could lay hands on, Roy would say he was very supportive of the football program. When he finally broke his word and left, it was because he was afraid someone else would start to get a few of the goodies.

Blake Post 7 years, 10 months ago

Same wilderness after departure of Gottfried also. Valasente had little success. As for Mason, also remember the 92 season. We smashed KSU (for the last time for many years) and won an Aloha Bowl. Defensive line was the best, with Stubblefield, Brown and Maumalanga. I guess Mason forgot that he did indeed some of the best players. I also remember 396 yards rushing for Tony Sands against Mzoo. Trounced those Tigers.
I still chuckle thinking of those wins.

Chayse Patrick 7 years, 10 months ago

Weis told his recruits "look at that pile of crap out there" he musta been looking in the mirror because as far as I'm concerned he's the biggest piece of crap that ever set foot on KU grounds!!! All he had going for him is the quote 5 rings well he can thank Tom Brady for that. Coach Bowen may not win any more games but I'll gauruntee the team he puts on the field every week are gonna play every down. And after each game your gonna see the red and blue blood that Clint bleeds!! Go Get 'em Coach Bowen Rock Chalk!!!!!

Jim Stauffer 7 years, 10 months ago

The only thing I disagree with is the comments you often hear, "KU will never be a FB powerhouse". Usually this comment comes right before they say, just let us be competitive and go to an occasional bowl game.

Baloney! Certainly we need to become competitive first, but we do not have to stay at that level. We can continue to move up the ladder. We are a very well respected University nationwide. There is no ceiling. It just takes someone like a Clint Bowen to first be successful and second to stay.

Jonathan Allison 7 years, 10 months ago

these is no reason why we can't be elite in basketball and be a national power in football as well.

The first step to climbing out of a deep hole: Stop digging.

Carter Patterson 7 years, 10 months ago

Great interview Tom. I remember being a student during the Coach Val fiasco and watching his Kent State team outblock us despite being 20 lbs less per player.

His first years were fun to watch because we played hard for 4 quarters, even though we always came up a little short in the Ws.

His insight on whom to recruit at Kansas makes a lot of sense.

Ray Winger 7 years, 10 months ago

To the recruiting advise, I think that linemen were often those with Great GPA's in high school...think...Joe Gibson, Ryan Cantrell

Waylon Cook 7 years, 10 months ago

I haven't seen this guys name pop up anywhere yet.

Thoughts? I realize no Big 12 ties but...

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 10 months ago

There's been a few people people mention his name on here. If Clint Bowen doesn't end up being the guy, I'd love to see McElwain get a shot at KU. He has the pedigree as a coordinator and he's doing a very good job at CSU in a pretty short amount of time. He's someone I could see succeeding at Kansas and KU would be a step up from CSU.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

McElwain and Warriner are tops in my book, for completely different reasons. Not close to the others IMO.

Daniel Reinigungsmittel 7 years, 10 months ago

Will never forget Mason's '93 loss against Nebraska. Henley scored the TD with about 50 seconds left in the game, down 20-21, Mason went for two instead of the tie. (no overtime back in those days). I thought it was a good call, but man that one hurt. Bowen was a senior on that team, IIRC.

Greg Ledom 7 years, 10 months ago

And inexplicably, Henley was on the sideline when we went for two. Great game.

Lance Hobson 7 years, 10 months ago

Mason was a tough coach and great motivator. I had a friend who played at KU and the transferred to WMU. He said the biggest difference was that Mason always gave intense motivational speeches making them believe they could beat a Miami or Nebraska, even if it was impossible.

I also recall groaning with everyone else at another up the middle play call. He did have some fun trick plays once in a while, though.

Lance Hobson 7 years, 10 months ago

Mason was a tough coach and great motivator. I had a friend who played at KU and the transferred to WMU. He said the biggest difference was that Mason always gave intense motivational speeches making them believe they could beat a Miami or Nebraska, even if it was impossible.

I also recall groaning with everyone else at another up the middle play call. He did have some fun trick plays once in a while, though.

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