University of Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle addressed a big decision Monday with his football program as it gets ready for its bowl game.
For Coyle, it’s the biggest revenue-generating sport at the school and the one that needs to create the biggest buzz in the state. The Gophers football team finished the regular season 8-4 and will learn what bowl game they’re headed for by Sunday.READ MORE: 'She Was A Jewel': Community Holds Vigil For Victim Of Quadruple Homicide
A contract extension for coach Tracy Claeys hasn’t been finalized yet, but Coyle announced Monday that Claeys “is the football coach” and “has my full support.” Coyle made it clear Claeys and his staff will be back next season. After that, nobody knows just yet.
The Gophers won eight games and are headed to another bowl, but excitement for the program is at its lowest point in several years. Here are four things Claeys and the Gophers need to accomplish if goal is to take the program from eight wins to the next level.
Zero Buzz Around The Football Program
Fans wanted more this season than the 8-4 record they got. They wanted a reason to buy in. But most that had mild interest became emotionally detached after the Gophers opened Big Ten play with losses to Penn State and Iowa. Perhaps expectations were a little high with a softer schedule, but there was just never a lot of buzz or chatter about the Gopher football team this year. On Senior Day, the final regular season home game, TCF Bank Stadium was half full.
Yes, there are pro sports here and other things to do. But in other states, college football is a priority. Look within the Big Ten. Michigan and Ohio State are each in markets that compete with other forms of entertainment, but Saturday football is a priority there. It’s not here, and the Gophers need to play more consistent and win more big games for that to change. The construction of the new Athletes Village will likely bring better athletes, and with that, they hope, comes more wins and excitement for college football.
Gophers 0-4 in Trophy Games
It wasn’t that long ago that Minnesota’s trophy case was full among its rivalry games. Just two years ago, they won at Michigan for the Little Brown Jug, they beat Iowa for Floyd of Rosedale and they won at Nebraska for the newly-formed Broken Chair. Paul Bunyan’s Axe? We don’t want to talk about that… it’s been 13 years now after last weekend’s loss at Wisconsin.
The best way for fans to buy into the program is to beat your rivals. This year, they lost at Penn State, lost to Iowa, lost to Nebraska and lost to the Badgers. To make matters worse, the Gophers had halftime leads over Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. They led Iowa in the second half, yet all four were losses. Just imagine if they split those four games or even take three of them. How does 10-2 or 11-1 sound instead of 8-4? The reality stings, because they would be playing in Indianapolis this weekend for the Big Ten Championship.READ MORE: Woman Critically Injured In Minneapolis Shooting
Quarterback Play… Enough Said
There is one more game left for Minnesota in the Mitch Leidner era. While his toughness and dedication can’t be questioned, he’s been scrutinized plenty for his play on the field. For the season, Leidner has seven touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Four of those interceptions came the second half of the loss at Wisconsin last week. Quarterback play has to be better if your expectation is to win a division and compete for a Big Ten title, it’s that simple.
Want to get people excited about a football team? Put a quarterback on the field who can move the ball, make good decisions and get the ball in the end zone. Claeys and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson deserve a chance to get their type of quarterback on the field, but patience is running thin in the fan base. Fans are getting tired of seeing average quarterback play and having it be the biggest thing preventing them from being a championship-caliber program.
Leidner will play the bowl game and back-up Conor Rhoda is transferring after the season. So will it be Demry Croft or Seth Green next year? Or will it be somebody not yet on campus? Regardless of the answer, it would benefit the Gophers greatly to have a dual threat quarterback who can run when he has to, read a defense and make accurate throws. Maybe more than anything, a guy that can use his feet to escape trouble and make big plays in key spots. Not every game will be great, but you at least need a quarterback that can put a defense on its heels.
Tracy Claeys Needs A Program Promoter
One of Jerry Kill’s greatest strengths was promoting his football program at the university. He was a dedicated public speaker, gave out free tickets to students and made appearances whenever he could. He was genuine about who he was as a person and football coach. He wasn’t a fraud like Tim Brewster (is your chili hot?).
The reality with Tracy Claeys is he’s a vastly different person than Kill. He doesn’t actively seek public opportunities to promote his program. He’d rather let winning do the talking. You don’t see him storming down the sidelines during the game like a lot of head coaches. He’d rather teach football and let the results show themselves and there is nothing wrong with that. But at Minnesota, you need somebody to go out and be the face of the program away from game day. Whether it be players or another coach, somebody needs to go out and re-engage the students and generate more interest in the program.
That, and more afternoon and night games to encourage tailgating and the complete game day experience all go into changing the culture. Fans need a reason to get off the couch, spend the money and be a part of a Gophers victory at TCF Bank Stadium. Of course, it starts with winning.MORE NEWS: Twins, Lynx, And Gophers Take Home Weekend Wins
Claeys has already shown improvement, taking a team that went 5-7 last year before a bowl game victory to 8-4 this year. Yes, the schedule was softer, but let’s give him a chance. All it takes is one big win to grab the momentum and fill the bandwagon.