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Minnesota coach Mason finalizes extension agreement

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota coach Glen Mason has a new contract
extension in place and his sights on the Big Ten title.

Mason has agreed to a four-year extension worth $1.65 million
annually, rewarding him for leading the Golden Gophers to six bowl
appearances in nine years. His 32 wins over the past four seasons
is the best four-year total at the school in 100 years.

It's quite a turnaround from 1997 when Mason inherited a woeful
team that for many years was the Big Ten doormat.

"We're proud of the progress we've made," Mason said Tuesday.
"But we don't feel the job is done yet."

Mason, whose contract was scheduled to expire at the end of
2006, will be eligible for up to $750,000 in incentive bonuses for
conference and national championships, bowl eligibility, national
rankings and graduation rates.

The Gophers have become a respectable member of the Big Ten
under Mason but are still looking up at Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa
and Penn State in the top tier of the conference.

Heartbreaking losses, including this season's last-second home
loss to Wisconsin and a blowout against the Hawkeyes to end the
season, have stunted fast starts and prevented them from playing in
a coveted New Year's Day bowl game.

So, how do the Gophers take that next step?

"That's an easy question, but a tough answer," Mason said.
"To go from a loser to a winner, to a consistent winner, it's not
all done until you win a conference championship."

Athletic director Joel Maturi said re-signing Mason was the
first step toward making that goal a reality. He and Mason also
spent much of Tuesday's press conference disputing that the
negotiations grew contentious in the closing weeks.

"There never was a thought of going in a different direction,"
Maturi said.

Mason said he was always confident the deal would get done and
he accepted part of the blame for the negotiations dragging through
last week's Music City Bowl loss to Virginia.

Maturi also wants to get the Gophers out of the stale, drab
Metrodome and into their own outdoor stadium on campus, as well as
raise more money from boosters to support the program.

"Joel and I feel that's going to be a reality sooner rather
than later," Mason said.

The university has agreed to a $35-million naming rights deal
with TCF but still has to secure approval from the state
Legislature, which is asked to pay 40 percent of the $250 million
stadium.

For next season, Mason will have to replace three key cogs --
center Greg Eslinger, running back Laurence Maroney and guard Mark
Setterstrom -- who played their last game in Nashville.

They are considerable holes but Mason remains confident in his
quest for a Big Ten title for the Gophers.

"Sometimes it happens," he said, "when you least expect it."