MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - The Minnesota Gophers officially have a new head coach. The team announced Wednesday morning that assistant coach Tracy Claeys will no longer carry the interim tag and has been signed to a 3-year deal.
Jerry Kill announced on Oct. 28 that he would retire from head coach for health reasons, effective immediately. At an emotional press conference that morning, Kill said his doctors advised him to retire from football for the sake of his long-term health.
Claeys' three-year contract will start in February and last through the 2018 season. He is set to make $1.4 million next year with $100,000 added each year for the following two years. Claeys worked on Kill's staff for 21 years primarily as a defensive coordinator, but this marks his first head coaching job. Before Glen Mason came to Minnesota as head coach, Claeys worked under Mason at the University of Kansas.
Just three days after Kill’s retirement, the Gophers (4-5) faced and nearly upset Michigan (ranked No. 15 at the time) at TCF Bank Stadium, but lost 29-26. Last weekend, the Gophers played then-No. 1 Ohio State and lost 14-28 after cutting a big Buckeyes lead in Columbus.
Next, they'll face Iowa on the road before returning home to play Illinois and Wisconsin at TCF Bank Stadium.
Claeys has helped bolster a tough Minnesota defense, which allowed 380 points in 2011 and 321 points in 2012. In 2013, its third season under Claeys’ leadership, the Gopher defense allowed only 289 points, the first time that Minnesota allowed fewer than 300 points in a full season since 2004.
Kill, 54, said this July he hadn't suffered a seizure in over a year and a half. He was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005 while coaching at Southern Illinois. Claeys took over for Kill while he was on leave to monitor his health in 2013.
"I’ve never listened to a doctor. And when I had cancer, I was cut open and was on the road recruiting in 5 days. But I’m going to listen this time. Because that gal, and my two kids, my brother and my mom -- they need me more down the road," Kill said as he announced his retirement.
Tracy Claeys statement
"I want to thank President Eric Kaler, Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz, the Board of Regents and the University for believing in me and providing me with this opportunity. The circumstances of the past few weeks have been unpredictable. This certainly is not the way anyone wants to become a head coach. Coach Kill is one of my best friends and I am thankful that he took a chance on me 21 years ago. I am looking forward to continuing what we have built at Minnesota, but will do so in my own way. One thing that won’t change will be our relentless pursuit to field a team that will make the state of Minnesota proud. We have tremendous fans and they deserve a highly competitive football team. Our student-athletes will play smart, tough and accountable football and will be held to the highest standards on and off the field.
Interim Athletics Director Beth Goetz statement
"I’ve gotten to know and respect Coach Claeys this past year and watched him work with our student-athletes each and every day. I admire his dedication to their development on the field and in the classroom. Given the improvement of this program, both academically and athletically, and Coach Claeys’ integral leadership role, we have great confidence that he is the right coach to lead this program and our student-athletes."