It was an opportunity to shake hands with University of Minnesota coaches Glen Mason, Dan Monson and J Robinson and men's athletic director Tom Moe.
It was a photo opportunity with the national championship wrestling and men's hockey trophies and a chance to hoist Paul Bunyan's Axe.
The Minnesota Gophers Coaches Caravan stopped Wednesday at the Moose Lodge in Brainerd and was welcomed by a capacity crowd. Moe and the coaches schmoozed with fans and briefly spoke to the crowd before hitting the road for a stop in Fargo, N.D., today.
Mason seized everyone's attention with his dynamic delivery. He brimmed with enthusiasm about the Gophers' chances next fall with returning standouts like running backs Marion Barber III and Thomas Tapeh, tight end Ben Utecht and quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq.
He also is encouraged by the play of former Brainerd High School offensive lineman Trevor McCulloch, a red-shirt freshman last fall.
"Offensive line, college offensive line, is a position that takes a long time to get used to," Mason said. "Unfortunately, or fortunately, because of our line depth, Trevor was thrown into that situation. He's playing second-team guard. I saw him make a lot of improvement."
Following consecutive bowl appearances in 2000 and 1999, the Gophers slipped to 4-7 last year. Mason realizes the buck stops with him, that football can drive an athletic program that projects a deficit of $25 million to $30 million the next few years.
"Tom stood up here and talked about all the problems we're having in athletics, that we can't make any more money in basketball, we can't make any more money in hockey, and we've got 20,000 empty seats in football, and it's my fault," Mason joked. "They might as well say it's my fault because sooner or later they're going to come around to blaming me, that it's my fault.
"Tom said we've made a lot of improvement in football in the short time I've been at Minnesota. I'm going into my sixth year. Most of my predecessors had already been fired by now. That's the nature of the business. You have to deal it."
Mason believes the best way to deal with the business is build an on-campus stadium. The 52-year-old, whose career record at Minnesota is 26-32, said everywhere he travels in Minnesota he is reminded by fans of the days when virtually everyone followed Gopher football.
"One of the reasons everybody had the radio on, and was getting in the car and going down there, is because the Gophers were winning," Mason said. "That's how America is. Everybody wants to be involved with a winner.
"My message to you is think about supporting our program. Let everyone know it's important. It's important to each and every one of you that the Gophers win, that the Gophers have the very best team they possibly can, just like the old days."
At the Big Ten luncheon in Chicago every July, a picture of game day at Memorial Stadium reminds Mason of the old days.
"They have a picture of people sitting in trees, sitting on top of telephone poles, watching the Gophers play because they can't get inside the stadium," he said. "What has happened? Somebody dropped the ball and you can't blame me. I haven't been around here that long. ... That's what we have to strive to get back to."
Saturday's spring game was played at the Rod Wallace practice field on campus. Mason said it was "one of the most refreshing experiences I've had since I've been here," better than upset victories at Penn State and Ohio State.
Across the street from the practice field a group of students watched the game from the roof of a house.
"They were fired up," Mason said. "They were chanting guys' names. After the first touchdown they stood up and started singing the rouser. That's what it's all about.
"The word will be out. Next year, that whole street, with those students living there, will be out there, and I might be with them."
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