The University of Minnesota has fired head football coach Tracy Claeys. Claeys confirmed as much in a text message to KSTP’s Darren Wolfson.
We’ll update with a statement from athletic director Mark Coyle as soon as one is available.
Claeys served as defensive coordinator under previous head coach Jerry Kill for four and a half seasons before being promoted to head coach after Kill resigned midseason on October 28, 2015, due to health reasons. Claeys signed a three-year contract worth $4.5 million on November 11, 2015, with a buyout clause of $250,000 per year.
In his first season as head coach at Minnesota, Claeys led the Golden Gophers to their first nine-win season since 2003, including an impressive Holiday Bowl win over the favored Washington State Cougars. The Gophers hadn’t won back-to-back bowl games since 2003-04. All four losses this season came against teams ranked in the Top 25, and in all four losses the Gophers held a lead at a halftime or in the fourth quarter.
But an off-field incident that took place on the night of the season opener against Oregon State has overshadowed the on-field success. Initially, four players were suspended indefinitely on September 10, 2016, while the Minneapolis Police Department conducted an investigation into an alleged sexual assault. The police report was submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney, who declined to press charges based on the available evidence on October 3.
The suspensions were then lifted, but the accuser — as a participant in game day operations for football games at the university — filed restraining orders against six players on October 21, barring them from games at TCF Bank Stadium. One restraining order would be dropped shortly thereafter, while the rest were lifted after an agreement between the two parties was reached in court on November 2.
In compliance with Title IX, the university launched its own internal investigation into the incident, through which a committee determined it was "more likely than not" that sexual assault had occurred. It recommended that five players be expelled, four be suspended for a year, and one be placed on probation for a year. Not all 10 student athletes were believed to have committed sexual assault, as 5 of them were punished for other violations of the student code of conduct. The penalties were handed down on December 13, and all 10 players were suspended indefinitely.
The rest of the football team — frustrated with a lack of communication from Coyle and university president Eric Kaler and reacting to a perceived lack of due process for their teammates — decided to boycott all team activities on December 15. The players requested a meeting with members of the Board of Regents and demanded the suspensions be lifted until appeal hearings could be conducted for the suspended players. The boycott — which ended on December 17, with no concessions made by Coyle or Kaler — drew mixed reactions both locally and nationally, with some supporting the team and others condemning their actions as a power play intended to subvert justice for an alleged victim of sexual assault.
It was during the boycott that Claeys sent the following Tweet:
Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world! 〽️— GoldenGopherHFC (@GoldenGopherHFC) December 16, 2016
This comment elicited strong reactions for both supporters and detractors. Claeys later elaborated on his support for his players and acknowledged he was in a difficult spot between the team and the administration, and pledged a personal donation of $50,000 to an organization that supports victims of sexual assault.
But now Claeys is out at Minnesota after one year as head football coach, and the search for his replacement is now underway. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.