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Mason never quite the same after his Tucson experience

NOTE: Along the way column; MUG

Bob Shaw, an old friend and colleague, asked Tony Mason not long ago:

“Why don’t you get back into coaching?’

“Because,’ replied Mason, “when I get a phone call at night, it’s you. . .

“Not the athletic director, some worried mother or the police.’

Mike Gottfried, who was closer to Mason than anyone, said Tony never complained about what happened to him in Tucson.

“He never said, `I got hosed,’ or `I wasn’t treated fairly,’ ‘ Gottfried said.

“You know what he did? For years, he was the guy other coaches called when they got fired. Tony would help them sort things out and get their lives back together.’

A lot of us are sorting things out today at the news of Tony Mason’s death.

He collapsed at the airport in Cleveland on Saturday and died at a hospital. An autopsy performed yesterday indicated Mason died of a heart attack. He was 64.

What happened to Mason in Tucson was a tragedy.

The Wildcat football program he had carefully put together to be competitive in the new Pac-10 fell apart after a lengthy newspaper investigation turned up NCAA violations.

Tony’s life came apart, too.

He was taken to court on criminal charges stemming from the investigation of the football program, and although acquitted, a lot of the sparkle in his eye was gone forever.

He never laughed quite as hard, or as often, again.

His marriage ended. And he felt like an outcast in Tucson, a city he loved very much.

He left here to become a broadcast analyst for the University of Pittsburgh – where Gottfried was head coach – and for various networks.

Mason’s main source of income was in giving motivational speeches to corporations, organizations and sports teams.

When he died, Tony was headed to Texas to do what he did best: talk. He was to be the speaker at a convention of high school coaches.

Mason coached the Wildcats from 1977-79, gave the school its first victory ever in the Pac-10 when UA defeated Oregon State in the second game of the 1978 season, and took the Cats to the 1979 Fiesta Bowl, where they lost 16-10 to Pittsburgh.

Tony’s funeral is to be Thursday morning at the McGonicle Funeral Home in his hometown, Sharon, Pa.

He leaves a daughter, Carey, 27, a school teacher in Mobile, Ala., where Tony had moved in recent years. Carolyn Mason Parker, Tony’s former wife, still lives in Tucson.

She said Tony was actively involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and suggested that friends who might want to make a memorial contribution do so through the FCA.

“It was an exciting time when we all came out to Arizona,’ recalled Tom Roggeman, longtime Wildcat assistant under Mason and Larry Smith. Roggeman is now at the University of Cincinnati.

“Coach Mason was a fun guy to be around,’ Roggeman said. “Whether we were at staff meetings, banquets – anywhere – he was the center of attention. He made life more enjoyable for everyone.’

Tony’s father ran a bar and grill in Sharon. Anthony, his dad and Julia, his mother, were avid sports fans.

Tony served in the Marines during the Korean War. “He got to know the Oklahoma National Guard, and that gave him a terrific start in coaching,’ Shaw said.

“Every doggoned member of the Oklahoma National Guard was a football player,’ Shaw said. “And through them, he eventually met and got to know Bud Wilkinson.’

In his early years of coaching high schools in Ohio, Mason was known to leave after a Friday night game and drive all the way to Norman, Okla., to watch the Sooners and pick Wilkinson’s brain.

He became an Ohio high school coaching legend.

Mason coached Brookfield High for five years, had a 40-6-1 record, three consecutive undefeated seasons and one 28-game winning streak.

He coached Niles McKinley six years, rolling up a 47-3-6 mark, with four undefeated seasons, two Ohio state championships and one hypothetical national championship.

Then he went to Michigan under Bump Elliott, and became head coach at Cincinnati in 1972.

Mason played tackle, offense and defense, at Clarion State in Pennsylvania. He also played baseball.

Mason, Shaw and the late Glen Stennett played at the same time at Clarion State, and all went into coaching.

Mason’s record at Arizona in three seasons was 16-18-1. He coached Cincinnati for four years and had a 26-18 mark there.

* Citizen Sports Columnist Corky Simpson may be reached at 573-4635 (FAX 573-4569).

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