Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, November 11, 2015

Well, that was quick: Minnesota took the ?interim? off Tracy Claeys? title and made him the full-time head coach today. It was the smart thing to do.

[ MORE: 'The Journey' features Claeys at 10:30 p.m. ET tonight ]

Two weeks ago, Jerry Kill stunned the school by announcing he was retiring after experiencing more health issues related to seizures. Claeys was anointed the interim coach, a role he had filled in the past when Kill had to miss time dealing with his health. Now, Claeys is the head coach, signing a three-year deal that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports will earn Claeys $1.4 million in 2016, $1.5 million in 2017 and $1.6 million in 2018. Kill earned $2.5 million in 2015.

By hiring Claeys, Minnesota will be able to maintain the continuity and momentum that Kill established since arriving in 2011. Claeys knows Kill?s formula for success. And he presumably will be able to retain a strong staff that features many long-time Kill assistants like offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, running backs coach Pat Poore, receivers coach Brian Anderson and defensive backs/specials coach Jay Sawvel.

Stability in the football offices also is key for Minnesota, which is still operating with interim athletic director Beth Goetz after Norwood Teague was fired in August. Ground-breaking on a $166 million athletic village took place this fall, adding more energy to a rising Big Ten program that Kill set in motion and now that one of his own will take over and look to maintain.

?I?ve gotten to know and respect Coach Claeys this past year and watched him work with our student-athletes each and every day,? said Goetz in a statement. ?I admire his dedication to their development on the field and in the classroom. Given the improvement of this program, both academically and athletically, and Coach Claeys? integral leadership role, we have great confidence that he is the right coach to lead this program and our student-athletes.?

Claeys will try to steer Minnesota to a fourth bowl in a row, but he?ll be challenged. The Gophers are 4-5 (1-4 Big Ten) with games left at Iowa this week before finishing the season at home vs. Illinois and Wisconsin. Claeys and the Gophers have lost the two games (Michigan, at Ohio State) since he took over for Kill.

Claeys served as Minnesota?s acting head coach for seven games during the 2013 season when Kill took time to focus on his health. Minnesota was 4-3 with Claeys pushing the buttons and posted wins against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State.

Claeys, 46, first joined Kill in 1995 as defensive line coach at Saginaw Valley State, making him Kill?s longest tenured assistant. Claeys never left Kill?s side for the next 21 years, as the duo made stops at Emporia State, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and Minnesota. Along the way, Claeys-one of nine current FBS head coaches who did not play collegiate football–became defensive coordinator and developed some strong units. Now, the Kansas State grad will run the whole show in Dinkytown, looking to build on what Kill started.

?I want to thank President Eric Kaler, Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz, the Board of Regents and the University for believing in me and providing me with this opportunity,? said Claeys in a statement. ?The circumstances of the past few weeks have been unpredictable. This certainly is not the way anyone wants to become a head coach. Coach Kill is one of my best friends and I am thankful that he took a chance on me 21 years ago. I am looking forward to continuing what we have built at Minnesota, but will do so in my own way.

?One thing that won?t change will be our relentless pursuit to field a team that will make the state of Minnesota proud. We have tremendous fans and they deserve a highly competitive football team. Our student-athletes will play smart, tough and accountable football and will be held to the highest standards on and off the field.?


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