It didn’t take very long but we received our answer regarding the future of Tracy Claeys and the near-term future of Gopher Football.
Fair warning here, this is going to be a glass-half-full kind of perspective. But that’s kind of who I am.
Chip Scoggins framed this debate within Gopher Nation as nuanced, and he’s 100% right.
Claeys’ status and the state of the program is a nuanced discussion that goes deeper than some fans’ fascination with his lack of emotion on the sideline.
Those who passionately want to see a change aren’t wrong. They aren’t exactly right either. Those who believe that extending him and giving Claeys a chance to succeed was the most appropriate move are not wrong either.
As it usually does it all comes down to expectations and how they were met or not. With the easy schedule many among us expected a remarkable season. If we win the games we are supposed to and do well in the games against the other good teams, we’ll be looking at a 9 or 10 win season. The problem was that we lost all of the games against the other good teams (depending on how you feel about Northwestern).
This is where the split of half-full or half-empty comes into play.
All four of our losses came against ranked teams that were favored to beat us. In the four losses to good teams we held a second half lead in all of them.
On the one hand, we held a late lead in all of those games and conceivably should or could have won any of them. How we were unable to turn any of those into a win is a valid point and one reason some within the fan base were desiring a coaching change.
On the other hand, we held a late lead against four teams ranked in the top 25.
- #6 Wisconsin
- #8 Penn State
- #22 Iowa
- #23 Nebraska
Holding a late lead is a good thing and an indication that we are a good football team, maybe just not quite good enough. Or perhaps good enough but we got in our own way one too many times. DarkKnight, in a side discussion with the staff said this, which I think is a great point.
Maybe put it this way: these results are what happens when you have a good defense and a bad offense. With the good defense, you're not ever going to get blown out. With a bad offense you'll never blow anyone out.
So games against good teams were close losses and games against lesser teams were close wins.
That's better than the living memory of Minnesota football.
I’m not interested in getting into the list of reasons to let him go vs. the list of reasons to keep him. There are valid points on both lists. But this is my blog post and I’m going to give my perspective.
I think it would have been a bad move to fire Claeys after this season. Was it a great season? No. Was it a bad season? Not that either. There was nothing to get excited about and really nothing we should be angry about. It was what it was. Be pleased but never satisfied. And that’s exactly how I feel this season. I’m pleased we were 8-4 with a chance at 9 wins. I’m not satisfied to be perpetually 3rd or 4th in the Big Ten West. But more than anything else, I’m patient. Not 10 years patient, but I’m willing to give Claeys more time.
He is not perfect and anyone who doesn’t think he has more to prove is being ridiculous.
On the other hand I don’t think he has shown us anything to prove he can’t be a competent Big Ten coach. He hasn’t shown that he has any sort of floor or ceiling. He’s been a coach here for one season. Can people have an opinion of what his ceiling is? Certainly, but we don’t really know yet.
He’s been here for 1 full season, with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. And he managed to get to eight wins. Regardless of the schedule, eight wins is not an easy thing. Easier than most years, but not a guarantee.
I’m not sold that Claeys is the next Bernie Beirman. But I think it would have been a mistake to let him go this early and not give him the chance. Patience is required to build a program. Having a ho-hum season does not mean we are trending in the wrong direction.
Lastly, it has to be noted that program progress is not linear. Sometimes you go down in wins or you remain the same in wins with an easier schedule. But we are not in any position to start to feel entitled to more. Winning in the Big Ten is not easy and for the last 4 or 5 years we’ve been pretty consistently winning while giving the good teams a good fight. I’m not on board for this scenario the rest of my life. But I’m adamant that patience is required.
Coach Claeys gets another year or two to prove what he can do. He needs to improve with this game management. I think he needs to be a more assertive leader with the staff. He’ll have some decisions to make and some recruits to snag. But he’ll have that chance. As I think he should.