Minnesota dismisses Tracy Claeys after two seasons

Minnesota dismisses Tracy Claeys after two seasons

Tracy Claeys is out as Minnesota coach after less than two years on the job, the school announced Tuesday.

The 48-year-old Claeys enjoyed a brief but eventful tenure for a program that continues to search for stable ground. He will leave Dinkytown with an 11-8 mark overall and 6-8 Big Ten record with two bowl wins. Claeys took Minnesota to a nine-win season in 2016, the program’s first since a 10-win effort in 2003. Still, it wasn’t enough to keep his job.

“I made a difficult decision today on behalf of the University of Minnesota,” said Minnesota A.D. Mark Coyle in a released statement. “With the support of Board of Regents’ leadership and President Eric Kaler, I have decided to take the Gophers football team in a different direction with new coaching leadership.

“I determined that the football program must move in a new direction to address challenges in recruiting, ticket sales and the culture of the program. We need strong leadership to take Gopher football to the next level and address these challenges.

“This decision is about the future of Minnesota football.”

A big factor in the decision to dump Claeys may have been a player boycott shortly after the season ended. The players were unhappy with circumstances surrounding the suspension of 10 players involved in an alleged sexual assault. The boycott threatened the Golden Gophers’ participation in the Holiday Bowl vs. Washington State. But players and school reached an accord; however, the 10 players at the root of the boycott remained suspended.

Still, much damage seemingly was done when Claeys tweeted his support of the players during the boycott after agreeing earlier with school administrators that the suspensions were appropriate.

“Coach Claeys’ Tweet later that week was not helpful,” said Coyle. “I accept that Coach Claeys intended it to support the boycotting players. Understandably others did not see it that way. I hope you will appreciate I cannot say more about the athletic suspensions in this case.”

Subsequently, a petition signed by “concerned citizens” called for Minnesota to fire Claeys for his response to the boycott.

Claeys initially assumed command on an interim basis six games into the 2015 season after health issues forced Jerry Kill to step aside. Claeys was hired full-time in November 2015 but at the time was given a bizarre three-year contract for $4.5 million with a small buyout by then-interim A.D. Beth Goetz.

Coyle, however, wants to go another direction and hire “his” guy. Minnesota owes Claeys just a $500,000 buyout for the remaining two years of his contract. He made $1.4 million in 2016. Minnesota went 9-4 this season (5-4 Big Ten) with an impressive Holiday Bowl win vs. Washington State. The Gophers had a shot to win a share of the West Division crown entering the final week of the season but they lost at Wisconsin.

Claeys was a long-time assistant to Kill, joining Kill’s staff at Saginaw Valley State in 1995 and following him to Emporia State, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and then Minnesota. He is a very good defensive coordinator by trade.

“I thank Coach Claeys and his staff for their years of service,” Coyle said in a statement. “Coaches Dan O’Brien and Mike Sherels have agreed to remain during the coaching transition to ensure that our student-athletes have strong and active leadership in the interim.”

What direction will Coyle go to replace Claeys? Coyle, who was hired from Syracuse in May, could target Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, a native of Illinois who attended Northern Illinois and is one of the hottest commodities in the nation.

Other names that may emerge are Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, UCF coach Scott Frost, Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, North Dakota State coach Chris Kileman, Illinois State coach Brock Spack, Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and Detroit Lions tight ends coach Al Golden, among others.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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