Tracy Claeys fired as Gophers football coach

University of Minnesota football coach Tracy Claeys has been fired, Fox 9 confirmed. 

In a press conference held Tuesday evening, Gophers Athletics Director Mark Coyle said he would honor Claeys' contract and the assistant coaches' contracts. Claeys will be getting a buyout totaling about $500,000. Coyle said the decision to fire Claeys did not come from one specific incident, such as the coach's tweet in support of the team's boycott, but rather it was part of an overall evaluation.

As Claeys left the Gophers football complex, his only comment to Fox 9's Paul Blume was, "Enjoy the winter."

Claeys had been on a very hot seat for the last month after voicing pride and support for his team during a 2-day boycott. That boycott was in response to the indefinite suspensions of 10 members of the football team connected to an alleged early season sexual assault.

Claeys had said earlier that his support for his student-athletes might cost him his job. In the end, apparently it did, as pressure grew from women’s rights groups and other victim advocates outraged by Claeys’ public stance.

This was Claeys' first full season as the Gophers football head coach. He replaced former head coach Jerry Kill, who retired last fall mid-season for health reasons. The Gophers defeated Washington State 17-12 in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27, finishing the season with a 9-4 record.

Coyle said they will be "moving as quickly as we can" to find the team's new head coach.

Athletics Director Mark Coyle statement

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.

Moving forward, we need a leader who sets high expectations athletically, academically, and socially.

I also want to address the unfortunate blurring of the football suspension decision.

On December 13, 2016, Coach Claeys, Deputy Athletics Director John Cunningham and I met to discuss 10 student-athletes.

I informed Coach Claeys of my judgment that athletic suspensions were appropriate.

Without any objection, Coach Claeys said he understood that decision to bench student-athletes.

Coach Claeys, Deputy Athletics Director John Cunningham, and I met with the student-athletes to advise them of our decision. Coach Claeys subsequently informed me that he agreed with the suspension decision.
And let me be clear: this was the right thing to do.

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.

I will say, as a general matter, athletic suspension decisions – essentially a decision to bench a player – are different from a prosecutor’s decision to charge someone with a crime.

Different standards, different policies.

An athletic suspension decision is also different from a panel decision whether there has been a student conduct code violation.

Different standards, different policies.

For example, we suspend student-athletes for attitude problems. We suspend student-athletes while criminal investigations are ongoing. We suspend student-athletes when University investigators present credible evidence of inappropriate conduct. What happens in a student conduct process is not for me to say. Like the U and all involved, I simply want a just and fair process. That is not determined by who prevails; if justice is done, then the University of Minnesota and the public win, no matter the outcome.

Again, this has been a difficult decision. I thank Coach Claeys and his staff for their years of service. Coaches Dan O’Brien and Mike Sherels have agreed to remain during the coaching transition to ensure that our student-athletes have strong and active leadership in the interim.

Discussion of expectations

The decision comes just days after Coyle said he wanted to sit down with Claeys to talk about his “expectations” for the program.

“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,” the statement after that meeting read.

Next Gophers coach?

Western Michigan head coach PJ Fleck has been a rumored candidate for the Gophers job, but local media reports and the coach's own statements after the Cotton Bowl indicate Fleck has no plans to leave Kalamazoo.

“I love where I’m at, period,” Fleck said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The Detroit News reports Fleck has "made it clear to his players" that he plans to stay for the 2017 season, and Fleck and Western Michigan are "close" on a contract extension.

Petition called for firing

Organizers delivered a petition to the Athletics Department and University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler last week, demanding he fire Claeys.

More than 2,000 people signed the petition, which stated that Claeys should be terminated for “failure of leadership and lack of sound judgment” in his response to the team's boycott of all football activities earlier this month. The players were boycotting the suspensions of 10 players following the university's investigation into an alleged sexual assault on Sept. 2.

No criminal charges

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Friday he will not file any criminal charges against any of the 10 Gophers football players who have been suspended indefinitely from the team.

Freeman said University of Minnesota’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action report on the actions of the players regarding an alleged sexual assault on Sept. 2 did not show any new, significant evidence that would enable him to bring charges against any of the players.

“That report shined a light on what can only be described as deplorable behavior,” Freeman said in a statement. “And while the university’s investigation included a handful of new interviews, the information elicited was not significantly different from the information presented to this office following a thorough investigation by the Minneapolis Police Department.”

Freeman said his initial decision not to bring charges against any of the players remains unchanged. In order to charge the players, Freeman said he would have needed proof beyond a reasonable doubt -- a lower standard than the University of Minnesota adhered to when they decided to suspend the players.

"We respect the County Attorney’s decision. As he notes, the University’s athletic suspension decision rests upon different standards and different policies," the U of M said in a statement.