MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys’ status will soon be addressed by athletic director Mark Coyle in the aftermath of sexual assault allegations and a brief team boycott after 10 players were suspended for the Holiday Bowl.
Coyle said Wednesday that he expects to meet in person with Claeys to discuss the coach’s status. The Gophers finished 9-4 with a 17-12 upset of Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
“Now that our football team has completed its season following an exciting win in Tuesday night’s Holiday Bowl, Coach Claeys and I will take this opportunity to reflect on this past season before sitting down together to talk about the future and my expectations for our football program,” Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university, which is still stinging from the Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action’s investigation of the Sept. 2 incident at a campus apartment that triggered the suspensions.
That prompted a threat by the players to skip the trip to San Diego, angered by what they felt was a lack of due process for their punished teammates. Tension simmered enough for the Gophers to regroup for perhaps their best game of the year, holding a pass-oriented Cougars team that was averaging 40-plus points per game to a season-low score despite four of their top six defensive backs absent. The distraction of the investigation fallout could’ve produced a clunker, but the players instead gave Coyle an inspired example of how hard they’ll play for Claeys and his staff.
“This whole bowl week and the whole time, we had the best practices that we had,” safety Damarius Travis said.
The nine wins were the most for Minnesota since 2003, but the support Claeys expressed on Twitter for his players while the boycott was in place complicated his job status because the tone of his Dec. 15 tweet hinted at conflict with his boss Coyle. Claeys said later he regretted his choice of words.
Claeys has two years left on his contract, but most of his peers around the country are signed for longer to sell recruits on stability. Prep stars can be easily steered elsewhere if they’re afraid a coach they connect with won’t be there in the fall or even the following year.
Claeys has a $500,000 buyout, which is half of his remaining base salaries. Assistant coach contracts would have to be bought out, too, if a new coach were to bring in a new staff. So if Claeys is going to stay, he’ll likely receive an extension even if it’s only with a nominal raise. He declined to discuss the subject after the game.
“That’s not important. What’s important is you walk in the locker room and you see the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Claeys said, adding: “I will sleep awfully good through the new year.”
Here are some key angles to follow with the Gophers moving forward:
UP NEXT: The 10 suspended players are due for a hearing before an appeals board in January, according to President Eric Kaler. They were assured by the administration the panel would be diverse, an important point for them because all 10 players are black. The board will hear their arguments before any determination is made on further punishment.
Several of the players have been recommended for expulsion, while others could be facing a one-year suspension, according to the players’ attorney, Lee Hutton. Hennepin County authorities have also said they’ll decide by the end of the week, after reviewing the university’s report, whether to take up the case again after initially declining to press charges. There’s also the possibility that some of the suspended players will take legal action against the school.
QUARTERBACK QUANDARY: Mitch Leidner’s up-and-down career has concluded, and for all his shortcomings as a quarterback his departure will leave a big hole at the position, not to mention a leadership void. Seth Green was on track to succeed him, but he’s one of the 10 suspended players. Conor Rhoda will not return, and Demry Croft has not developed as a prospect.
DB U: Claeys and defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel have begun to forge a reputation for developing NFL-caliber defensive backs, and two more could be headed that way with departing seniors Travis and Jalen Myrick. Furthermore, KiAnte Hardin, Ray Buford, Dior Johnson, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Antonio Shenault accounted for half of the suspended players, putting their future at the university in question. Coney Durr, Adekunle Ayinde and Duke McGhee are among the returners who will be expected to carry the torch next season for what has been a strong secondary for several years.
SCHEDULE STIFFENS: This was the season for the Gophers to take advantage of, with all three nonconference games at home and East Division powers Ohio State and Michigan absent from the schedule. They won all of the games they were favored to, but a feeling of missed opportunity lingered. They were either tied with or leading halfway through the fourth quarter or later in all four losses, at No. 5 Penn State, against No. 21 Iowa, at No. 24 Nebraska and at No. 8 Wisconsin.
Next year will bring a slightly tougher schedule, with the rematch with Oregon State on the road this time and a home game with Michigan State essentially replacing Rutgers. Penn State disappears, but the Gophers must visit Michigan instead. The Wisconsin game is at home, but the venue hasn’t mattered much with 13 straight wins for the Badgers.