MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Not even a stunning bowl victory with an extremely undermanned defense could help Tracy Claeys keep his job as the head coach of the Gophers football team.
WCCO’s Mike Max has confirmed that Claeys was fired Tuesday afternoon. It comes after the football program was marred by an investigation stemming from an alleged sexual assault after the Gophers’ win over Oregon State back in September.
Athletic Director Mark Coyle released a statement Tuesday on the decision to let Claeys go.
“I made a difficult decision today on behalf of the University of Minnesota. 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,” Coyle said.
Four players were originally suspended while the Minneapolis Police Department conducted an investigation. The players missed four games and were barred from TCF Bank Stadium after the victim, who works in football game day operations, filed a restraining order against the four players making it illegal for them to be at the stadium. No criminal charges were filed in the case.
The victim and players eventually agreed to a settlement that lifted the restraining orders, but the investigation was far from over. The University of Minnesota conducted its own investigation, leading to the suspensions of 10 players before the Holiday Bowl. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office reviewed the school’s report of the incident last month, but declined again to file charges.
Gopher football players announced they would boycott the bowl game, arguing the 10 were suspended without being granted their due process. Claeys went to Twitter to voice his support of the boycott, which might have ultimately led to his dismissal. He went directly against his superiors, Athletic Director Mark Coyle and President Eric Kaler, in supporting his team.
Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world! 〽️🏈
— GoldenGopherHFC (@GoldenGopherHFC) December 16, 2016
Coyle said he met with Deputy Athletics Director John Cunningham and Claeys on Dec. 13 to discuss the suspensions of the 10 players. Claeys understood that the suspensions were appropriate.
“Coach Claeys’ Tweet later that week was not helpful. 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,” Coyle said Tuesday.
Minnesota now faces an uphill battle as National Signing Day for high school senior recruits is less than two months away. The football program is in danger of losing several recruits and having to rebuild both the performance side and the reputation destroyed as a result of the alleged incident. But in the bigger picture, administration has delivered the message that whatever happened in the alleged September incident will not be tolerated now or ever again.
With Claeys, the Gophers won nine games in 2016 for the first time since 2003, when they finished 10-3. They also won a bowl game for the second straight year.
Coyle said Dan O’Brien and Mike Sherels have agreed to remain on staff during the transition to ensure the program has leadership in the interim.