Arizona Football: The three worst coaches in program history

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3. 3. HC: 1977-1979 (3 seasons). . Tony Mason

On paper, Mason isn't necessarily a bad coach. However, his three-season tenure as Arizona's head coach was decent at best and his resignation was embroiled in scandal. He was hired ahead of the 1977 season after Jim Young, fresh off a 5-6 season but with a 31-13 overall record, left to be the head coach at Purdue. In five seasons, Young saw three straight nine-plus-win seasons with bowl game wins from 1978 to 1980.

Mason, the former Cincinnati head coach from 1973-1976, wasn't finding so much luck. He wasn't able to do much in his first year in 1977, matching Young's five-win total from the year before. In 1978, Mason was tasked with leading the Wildcats in their move from the Western Athletic Conference to the Pac-8/10. His second season was only better by virtue of finishing with one fewer loss at 5-6, and Arizona struggled against its new conference foes, going 3-4 in the Pac-10.

Mason and the Wildcats finally put it all together in 1979, where they finished the regular season 6-4-1 and qualified for a bowl game for the first time under Mason's leadership. However, Arizona was a paper tiger once bowl season came around, considering that Arizona only beat teams that sat at or below .500 on the season. The illusion came crashing down in the 1979 Fiesta Bowl, where the Wildcats fell short 16-10 to then-No. 10 Pitt to end the season on yet another somber note.


Just a few months later, a scandal would emerge regarding the mismanagement of school finances. Right as university officials were set to investigate the alleged corruption, Mason suddenly resigned. The results of the investigation found that $4,800 (approx. $18,000 adjusted for inflation) in plane tickets that were not for recruiting and were never used were listed on an expense report. Players were also working in the offseason, which was not permitted by the NCAA at the time.

Though he claimed that his resignation was not an admission of guilt, the optics of it never looked great. He was succeeded by Larry Smith, who only posted a record below .500 in his first season while dealing with the fallout from Mason's messy departure. The disgraced Mason never had a head coaching position in the collegiate or NFL ranks again, and finished his time at Arizona with an overall 16-18-1 record.

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