After a football season that contained some of the biggest off-the-field controversy that the program had ever seen, the University of Minnesota has relieved head coach Tracy Claeys of his duties. This move came despite Claeys producing the most wins (nine) that Minnesota had seen since 2003, and the second-most since 1905. There is speculation of possible replacements that might have warranted Claeys’ termination, but it’s also possible that the short-lived boycott of his players might have been the catalyst for his removal as well.
Here’s what you need to know about Minnesota’s latest former head football coach:
1. Claeys Got the Job After Jerry Kill Resigned Due to Health Concerns
In October of 2015, former Golden Gophers head coach Jerry Kill resigned his position due to a situation with his health that appeared dire. In the press conference, Kill explained that his doctor had advised him that continuing to coach posed serious risks of severe neurological issues. Kill’s problems with epilepsy had been prevalent during his entire tenure with Minnesota, which began in 2011. Those problems progressed with time, and Kill admitted that they had developed to the point where the condition was no longer manageable.
Claeys, whom had been hired in 2010 and progressed to the position of associate head coach/defensive coordinator under Kill, immediately took over as interim head coach. The interim tag was removed on November 11, 2015, and Claeys went into this past season as his first full season as head coach of the Golden Gophers.
While it’s hard to argue that Claeys didn’t earn his opportunity to be the head man in Minneapolis, it’s also worthwhile to speculate as to if Kill didn’t have the health problems that he did, whether Claeys would have ever gotten a chances as a head coach at the FBS level. Sentiments on his short tenure as the head coach in Minnesota were mixed.
2. An Online Petition Sought Claeys’ Removal
A petition circulated by MoveOn.Org advocated for Claeys’ termination, citing his failure to provide leadership and lack of sound judgement. The incident that sparked the reaction was a tweet that Claeys sent out after his players announced that they were boycotting all football activities until 10 of their teammates that had been suspended over their involvement in a sexual assault that was alleged by an anonymous female student at the university were reinstated. The players ended their boycott just days later, after seeing the report that the university had put together on the incident.
As the petition failed to reach its stated goal of 4,000 signatures, how much if any impact on the decision to fire Claeys is a matter of speculation the petition had is a matter of speculation. University officials have never publicly addressed the petition. A rally that was originally intended as a demonstration for Claeys’ termination was planned for Wednesday on the campus of the university, and the organization Global Rights for Women states that the rally will go on as planned despite Claeys’ firing as a demonstration against sexual assaults of women on college campuses.
There was support for Claeys as well. Kill voiced his support, and a separate online petition supporting Claeys’ retention collected about 2,200 signatures.
3. Replacement Rumors Include Well-Known Names
Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune connected several prominent names to the new Golden Gophers vacancy, including Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck, Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and former LSU head coach Les Miles.
Harsin seems to have the strongest connection to Minnesota. Current Golden Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle hired Harsin when Coyle was with Boise State. Miles has the most impressive résumé from a Power 5 program, however. When Mile was fired by LSU this past September, he had a record of 114-34 and the 2007 national title on his list accomplishments.
Whether Minnesota splurges on Miles or another coach with similar credentials, or lures away an up-and-coming coach from a smaller program will partially come down to whether or not they are willing to spend more on a new coach than they did on Claeys.
4. Claeys was One of the Lowest Paid Head Coaches in FBS
When Claeys took over for Kill, he was given a three-year contract valued at just $4.5 million. The buyout on the contract was friendly to the university as well, coming in at just $250,000.
According to USA Today, Claeys was the 68th-highest paid coach in Division I football this year, ironically enough ranking just above Harsin at Boise State. There were 10 coaches from non-Power 5 schools who were paid more this year than Claeys.
The low buyout on Claeys’ contract likely played a big role in the decision to fire him, and it will be worth watching what kind of figures the next head football coach contract Minnesota hands out will contain.
5. Claeys Has a Passion for Cooking
Although Claeys is not married and has no children, Claeys definitely has a life outside of the coaching profession. Claeys owns a bar with his sister in his home town of Clay Center, Kansas, called Coach’s Pub and Grill. Claeys also has written a cookbook which has been published online. It’s said that his speciality is slow cooking meat. Claeys is a Kansas State alumni, and it’s possible that fans might find him around the bar more often now that he is no longer coaching.
Until the next program comes calling, if Claeys is up for the job.