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Minnesota Football: Coaching Search, the Case For Tracy Claeys

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Usually when a school has a coaching opening there is a buzz within the fanbase as people speculate who would be the best fit and who will take their football or basketball program to that next level.  In fact, in the weeks following the Tim Brewster firing traffic on TDG was through the roof.  Same can be said in the weeks following Tubby Smith's dismissal.  Yet for all of the speculation, candidate profiles and predictions both Gopher hires went to guys who received no more mention than a rogue commenter or two.

Even so, people love to speculate. Even when coaches are having some level of success people are looking for that next hot name to "take us to the next level."

But for whatever reason there is very little buzz around the ensuing Gopher coaching search.  Probably because there is a strong likelihood that the in the name of continuity, Tracy Claeys will be named your next Gopher Football Head Coach. Lets take a look at the resume and case for Claeys.

There are many necessary attributes needed to be a successful head coach at a Big Ten level. I'll take a look at his resume, why I think he's a good fit and why he may not be.


See Jerry Kill's resume.

I kid, but only a little.  I'll start with Claeys's experience that did not include working for Jerry Kill.  In 1994 Claeys was the co-defensive coordinator at Santa Fe Trail High School in Kansas.  That's it, the following season Claeys became a defensive line coach for Jerry Kill at Saginaw Valley State.  In 1999 Kill moved on to Emporia State and took Claeys along with him to be his Defensive Coordinator and has been in that role with Jerry Kill at every stop along the way.  He has coached for 22 year, 21 of them with Jerry Kill and 17 of them as a DC.

His only head coaching experience has only come at times when Jerry Kill has been unable to be leading the team.  He was the acting head coach for seven games in 2013 leading the Gophers to a 4-3 record highlighted by a big win over Nebraska.

He has taken over again this year to lead the team for the final five games of the year, facing an incredibly stretch of Michigan (L), @Ohio State (L), @Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin.


Tracy Claeys has two things going for him right now. Both are viable reasons to hire him at this point, though not exactly the things you would typically put atop the list of qualities you look for in a head coach.  Those two things are continuity and the fact that there is really nobody in place to make the ultimate decision.

The University is in a weird spot right now with an interim Athletic Director while all the t's are crossed and i's dotted with the Norwood Teague sexual harassment scandal.  Nobody in place who should be responsible for hiring a head coach is currently in the office.  Whomever is eventually hired will want some say in who his head football coach is.  So the University has a choice to either go through a thorough and intensive to find a new coach, or they can go with the guy they know with a favorable contract and let the new AD get hired and acclimated before having to make a football decision.

And far more importantly, it is going to be hard to convince a number of coaches to even consider this job without an AD in place.  Are there guys who would take the job?  Sure, and probably some very capable ones.  But there are also many who would pass up this opportunity.

So you do down the hall to hire the guy you know...with a favorable and likely short-term contract.

Continuity isn't always a bad thing and there can be a lot of good coming from retaining Claeys as your head coach.  I think most people expect recruiting to stay intact as long as this coaching staff returns.  The current coaching staff, it is assumed, would largely stay intact.  Jay Sawvel gets his opportunity to be a defensive coordinator and continuity on the staff remains.  This is valuable and underrated.

The players know what to expect with this staff and rather than starting from scratch, they all have the opportunity to continue the forward momentum of the program.

If we are talking about results on the field, one could argue that Claeys has done quite well when put in some difficult positions.  His first game in 2013 was at Michigan where the team learned that Jerry Kill was not going to be there within a day of kickoff.  That game was a loss.  But following that the team went on a 4-game win streak winning a couple road games and then beating Nebraska (9-4 that year) and Penn State (7-5).  This year he has had two games as the guy calling the shots and his team has come up short both times. But the eye test tells me that this is maybe the best they have played all year, it just so happened to be that they were facing Michigan and traveled to Ohio State.  All of that to say that Claeys has had his team well-prepared and they have generally executed well in times of great distraction.

As a defensive coordinator Claeys has been very successful.  He has units that play well together, they develop and they have been able to slow even some of the best offenses in the nation.  He makes great half-time adjustments and would likely be in line for a head coaching job somewhere along the line.


The obvious is that Tracy Claeys really has no head coaching experience.  There is so much more to do as the head coach than the DC.  As a DC you get to spend a lot of time focussing on just your side of the ball and mastering that.  As the head coach you are pulled in dozens of directions and have to be able to make decisions on both sides. The decisions at the end of the Michigan game is a great example of how Claeys will need to grow.

I'm also not exactly sure how great Claeys will be as a public face of the program.  How will he be when meeting with boosters, talking with reporters, sitting in a recruit's living room as the head man and making the rounds throughout the state to see fans?  Kill had a persona and he knew what he was doing when in front of the cameras, his "Country Jer" persona was certainly grounded in truth but it was also part of what he was trying to portray.  Claeys seems to figuring that out as he goes. Unfortunately he doesn't get the opportunity to do learn those ropes at a lower-level school.

These are not things that cannot be overcome but we are hiring a guy learning to be a head coach on the job.


All signs are actually pointing towards the University taking the interim tag off of Tracy Claeys.  And giving the circumstances that is probably the best course of action.

Sign Claeys to a modest 3-4 year deal with a favorable buy-out clause.  If he is successful over the next couple years, then you extend him because he's earned it.  No need to wait for a win, no need to see if he manages to earn a rivalry trophy, these final three games really shouldn't matter. The University is in an odd spot and I think they'll make this hire. If he struggles, then you have your AD in place to make the decisions he is paid to make.  Maintain continuity with the staff, the team and recruits.

There are some things that need to be figured out and Claeys has some things to learn.  I'm guessing he will probably get the opportunity to learn them on the job.  This decision might as well be made sooner than later.