MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Interim coach Tracy Claeys has been named the head coach of the Gophers football team.
University of Minnesota Interim Athletics Director Beth Goetz announced the news Wednesday morning, saying the University of Minnesota and Claeys signed a three-year contract.
Claeys, 46, was named interim coach when former head coach Jerry Kill suddenly retired on Oct. 28, 2015 due to his struggles with epilepsy.
Previously, when Kill needed to take a leave of absence from the team in 2013, Claeys stepped in as acting head coach for seven games and posted a 4-3 record.
Claeys, who has worked with Kill for 21 years, was previously the associate head coach and defensive coordinator.
The Clay Center, Kansas native is credited with turning around the Gophers’ defense into one of the best in the Big Ten.
“Tracy is the leader we wanted to entrust in our student athletes,” Goetz said. “We believe in Tracy and his leadership abilities with the opportunity to run this football program.”
Claeys said a team meeting was held Wednesday morning to announce the news, which was welcomed by all the players.
“It was a great reaction. The kids are excited, it’s been a tough two weeks on them, felt like we lost a best friend (in coach Kill). It was great to see them smile,” Claeys said.
Defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel will call defensive plays the rest of the season and maintain his role as the team’s defensive coordinator. Goetz said all assistant coaches on staff are under contract through the end of January 2016 and will be evaluated after the season.
Staff continuity has been one of the biggest strengths of the Gophers program under Kill and now Claeys. Claeys said Wednesday there won’t be any major changes the rest of the season, and the rest will be evaluated at the end of the season. As for Kill’s status, Claeys said he would welcome Kill back in an advisory role.
“I told coach Kill last night he’s welcome any time to come in from 8 a .m. to noon, be an adviser. He is always welcome as a friend and coach,” Claeys said.
Claeys now takes over as the face of the Gophers football program. It’s a role he says he’s comfortable with after Kill went out of his way over five years to promote the Minnesota program. Kill became a main face as Minnesota was raising funds for a new Athletes Village and Center for Academics and Excellence. There was a groundbreaking for the $166 million project just days after Kill announced his retirement for health reasons.
“I’m very comfortable being the face of the program. There’s good people here,” Claeys said. “I had a great time last year visiting with the people of Minnesota and I look forward to doing more of that.”
Claeys said there wasn’t an agent involved in formalizing the details of his contract. It was good, host conversation.
“I wanted the opportunity and we were always on the same page. We got it done. I’m very comfortable with everything about the contract,” Claeys said.
Now the Gophers can focus on football. Minnesota heads to unbeaten Iowa for a Saturday night game, looking to keep the Floyd of Rosedale. The Gophers have three games remaining, at Iowa and home against Illinois and Wisconsin, and need to win at least two of those three games to become bowl eligible.
“We’ll do it the right way to make the whole state proud,” Claeys said.