Glen Mason was the head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers from 1997-2006. He finished with a 64-57 record, the first coaching tenure to be above .500 there since Murray Warmath went 87-78-7 across 1954-71. After two rebuilding years up front, Mason took the team to a bowl in seven of his last eight seasons. The proliferation of bowl games is as much to credit as anything, but he has seven of the team's 15 bowl appearances to his name.
The school fired Mason after a 6-7 campaign in 2006. Chip Scoggins of Minneapolis Star Tribune commented after his firing,
Mason's legacy is a complicated one. He brought respectability to a downtrodden program, did not tolerate troublemakers and produced a handful of All-America players.
However, his record and string of bowl-game appearances were aided greatly by easy nonconference schedules.
It's not hard to imagine those same words appearing in the Clarion Ledger or something similar within a few years, only with "Mullen" subbed in for "Mason".
I say this because this post from our friends at FWtCT tells me that Dan Mullen is getting close to the Glen Mason Zone: that squishy area where a coach brings a historically weaker program up to being solidly average but nothing more. It's improvement. It's at or even a bit better than the norm for the program over the preceding decades. It is not, however, enough to compete for a conference title, and the thrill of the improvement years gives way to frustration when the program stalls out and hits a steady state of 6-8 wins per year.
If you're not clicking over to that post, I don't want you to get the wrong idea about it. It still supports Mullen, citing South Carolina's decade-long struggle to get near the top across the Holtz and Spurrier years as proof that it takes a long time to build things up at a place that isn't a historic contender. It doesn't lay total blame at Mullen's feet. It even ends on a positive note, expressing confidence in both Mullen and AD Scott Stricklin.
But it's got frustration. In the wake of a dismal loss, it's understandable. Given Mullen's talk of wanting to win an SEC title since he walked in the door, it's understandable. It's a rational post and a positive one, but it's not a happy one. It references, and the comments are already showing, a growing discontent in the fan base. I can imagine part of it is also frustration looking at The School Up North. Over the past decade or so, Ole Miss got to enjoy Eli Manning, somehow parlayed the duo of Ed Orgeron and Houston Nutt into two Cotton Bowls, and had a rather splashy signing day this past year. It had some lows, but it had some highs. MSU had the lows of the Croom years yet only one relative high in 2010.
Mullen is not in the Glen Mason Zone yet. He will not get fired if he goes 6-7 this year. However, the prospects aren't exactly sunny. I talked in my preseason picks post about how loaded the SEC West is in terms of coaching. If Mullen needs a decade like the guys at South Carolina did, he may not get it because of how hard the division is.
Of course, it's best not to overreact to one game. Oklahoma State was the consensus preseason Big 12 favorite, after all, so it probably should have defeated Mississippi State by a comfortable margin all along. The real measuring sticks are more the games against Arkansas and Auburn. If Mullen, five years in, cannot handle first-year reclamation projects that won a combined seven games last year, then we got problems in Starkville.
Dan Mullen may not be in the Glen Mason Zone, but he is probably in the outskirts of it, and he doesn't have too many more years to go before it becomes his zip code of residence.