The Lesson of Glen Mason and Tim Brewster

I told myself that, same as the last two seasons, I would take a week or two to cool off after a long, stressful, yet quite enjoyable season before wading back in and posting something. But with all the "Fire Gardy" talk both here on Twinkie Town and (more so) elsewhere, I have to step in and remind everyone of recent Gophers Football history, specifically the lesson of Glen Mason and Tim Brewster. So, with the risk of potentially ticking off even more of you by going from one hot button topic (Gardy) to another (Brewster), I take you back to December 2007 after the jump...

On December 29, 2007, the Minnesota Gophers football team capped off a ho-hum 6-6 regular season with a 44-41 loss to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl. It wasn't the loss that was so disappointing so much as a craptacular meltdown, as the Gophers blew a 38-7 lead, resulting in the biggest comeback in major college bowl history. After two days of constant criticism and really ugly comments across the blogosphere, head coach Glen Mason was fired on New Year's Eve. I distinctly remember sitting at my parents house that evening, having a heated argument with my Dad about the firing. His general point was, Glen Mason has brought this team down to mediocrity, he's had his chance (9 years), and it's time for him to go. While I understood the reaction, I disagreed. Before Mason arrived in 1997, Jim Wacker (remember him?) led the Gophers to a horrendous 16-39 record and zero bowl appearances in five seasons. The Gophers had returned to the lower third of the Big Ten standings, and things looked bleak. Enter Glen Mason, and after coming thisclose to beating #1 Penn State in Happy Valley in 1997, in his third season the Gophers began a stretch of 7 bowls in 8 years, peaking with a 10-3 season.

But it wasn't so much the repeated bowl appearances (more than all previous Gopher coaches combined to that point), it was the fact that under Mason the Gophers football team had an identity. With future NFL running backs like Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney, and offensive linemen like Ben Hamilton and Greg Eslinger, the Gophers could run the ball on anyone, at any time. And if you were a top five team (Ohio State, Penn State) at home, you had to watch out against the Gophers. Even though they came up short of a Rose Bowl berth every year behind the likes of Michigan or Ohio State, you always knew if the Gophers could catch a few breaks there was a shot at a Big Ten title. In short, Mason had turned around a program that had gone a combined 113-150-2 over the previous 25 seasons under five head coaches.

But I digress, so the Gophers had a few successful, but still second tier seasons. What does this have to do with the current situation with the Twins and Ron Gardenhire? Simple. My argument at the time was that Glen Mason had taken a bottom tier Gophers football program, and raised them to a level where they were consistently pumping out NFL draft picks, smashing the football down opposing defense's throats, and ultimately finishing in the top half of the conference. You don't throw away that kind of program-wide turnaround because of a blown lead in a bowl game, because there's a very good chance that under the next guy the program will revert right back to where it was before Mason. And unfortunately that's exactly where the Gophers now reside under Tim Brewster's reign.

Before Ron Gardenhire became the Twins manager in 2002, the Twins were in the midst of a decade-long funk (one produced by small payrolls to be sure, but a funk nonetheless), during which they posted a combined 703-848 record and zero playoff appearances under manager Tom Kelly. Upon taking the helm, Gardy has proceeded to lead the Twins to a combined 803-656 record and six playoff appearances in nine seasons. Yes, Gardy was helped a great deal by great draft picks (Joe Mauer, Johan Santana) and trades (A.J. Pierzynski for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser), but with generally low payrolls, Gardy and the front office had drafted a plan that would consistently keep the team at or near the top of the division, with a chance to make some noise in the playoffs. And just as Glen Mason's Gophers would always fall a game or two short of the Rose Bowl, Gardy's Twins teams have had similar problems in the postseason. No need to remind anyone here of that fact. But the bottom line is that you don't average 89 wins a year over nine years, nor do you make the playoffs six out of nine seasons by accident. And before you clamor for a change in leadership, remember that success can turn into garbage very quickly, regardless of the kind of talent a team may have. Just ask the Pittsburgh Pirates, after losing Jim Leyland, or the Baltimore Orioles after Pat Gillick and Davey Johnson. Me, I'd rather examine the root causes (as far as one can without being in the dugout or clubhouse) of recent playoff woes, and address those with a few signings, trades, or perhaps a bench coach rather than firing the manager. Because in the end, I can't argue with the overall results and way the team has performed under Ron Gardenhire. And until someone can point to specific reasons that Gardy will never win in the postseason, I'd rather take my chances with a known quantity rather than potentially hire another Tim Brewster.

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