The stadium that Minnesota head coach Glen Mason never got to work in may have been what did him in.
That's the only conclusion to be drawn from what Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi called "an extremely difficult decision" to fire Mason, without warning, on Sunday after 10 seasons as head coach.
Maturi blamed the stunning 44-41 overtime loss to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl on Friday night, a game that the Gophers led, 38-7, midway through the third quarter.
"If we had not lost the way we had lost, we probably wouldn't be here today," Maturi said, according to wire services.
Like former Alabama coach Mike Shula, the coach whom Mason defeated in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl two years ago, Mason got fired not because of one bad season too many, but because of one mediocre season too many. The Gophers finished with a 6-7 record.
The appropriate adjective is shocked.
"Most people are," Mason said from his home late Sunday afternoon. "I was. You go to five straight bowl games and seven in 10 years. We played a good team and we lost."
Mason has won more at Minnesota than any coach since Murray Warmath (87-78-7, 1954-71). He is the first coach since Warmath to have a winning record (64-57).
And in this era, it didn't matter. The Gophers' bowl collapse highlighted a new, unspoken rule in college football: In the stratosphere where college football coaches' salaries reside, the patience of the administrators paying those salaries has grown as thin as oxygen.
In a statement posted on the university Web site, Maturi also said, "I believe the program needs a new vision to reignite fan enthusiasm for Gopher football."
Here's what that means: Last May, after years of work, the university secured funding from the state legislature to build a stadium on campus that is scheduled to open in 2009. Minnesota wouldn't have drummed up the enthusiasm among the public and the legislators to fund the stadium without averaging eight wins a season from 2002 through 2005.
However, Mason never lifted the Gophers higher than fourth in the Big Ten. With a new stadium to fill, Minnesota wants fresh, even if that may not mean better. Maturi consulted with university president Robert Bruininks and announced the firing at a 5 p.m., CST, news conference Sunday. Mason was not invited.
Mason planned to spend his first postseason Sunday with remote in hand, watching the NFL. Then his phone rang.
Maturi "called at 12:15 today saying I was fired. I received a letter via courier at my house saying I was fired without cause and thanked me for my diligent efforts."
And he had no inkling?
"Not after we won the last three games and got to a bowl game with a young football team," he said.
The loss to Texas Tech was not the first time that Minnesota has blown a big lead under Mason. In 2003, Michigan scored 31 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 21-point deficit and beat Minnesota, 38-35. Minnesota also squandered a 24-0 edge in the 2000 Micronpc.com Bowl
against North Carolina State.
Mason has four years remaining on his contract, the negotiations of which were completed a year ago Sunday. Being fired "without cause" is lawyerspeak meaning that Mason must be bought out. One report said he is owed $4 million.
In 21 seasons as a head coach at Kent State, Kansas and Minnesota, he has a record of 123-121-1.
"With no stadium [on campus], we've done a good job and we haven't broken one rule," Mason said. "I've turned around three programs that were losers and made them better."
He likely will get a chance to turn around a fourth.
"I want to coach," Mason said.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.