Gophers name Claeys as head football coach

By Andy Greder St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Tracy Claeys was named the Minnesota Gophers head football coach on Wednesday morning, removing his interim tag with a three-year, $4.5 million contract, the university announced. Claeys was na...

By Andy Greder

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tracy Claeys was named the Minnesota Gophers head football coach on Wednesday morning, removing his interim tag with a three-year, $4.5 million contract, the university announced.

Claeys was named interim head coach Oct. 28 when Jerry Kill resigned because of health issues tied to his epilepsy. Claeys, 46, was Kill's defensive coordinator in their four-plus years together at Minnesota since 2011.

Claeys will earn $1.3 million for the rest of this year. His salary will increase $100,000 for the three years of the deal -- $1.4 million for 2016-17 to $1.5 in 2017-18 and $1.6 in 2018-19.


As a first-time head coach, Claeys will make less than the average for Big Ten coaches ($3 million a year in 2015-16), according to the USA Today database. Claeys, who was making $600,000 as defensive coordinator, will have a salary next season that places him ninth among current coaches in the 14-team Big Ten. Kill was set to make $2.5 million this year before resigning and taking an $800,000 buyout.

This season as interim head coach, Claeys is 0-2, falling to No. 2 Ohio State 28-14 last week and 29-26 to No. 15 Michigan on Oct. 31. The Gophers close out the regular season with games against No. 8 Iowa, and home games at TCF Bank Stadium against Illinois on Nov. 21 and Wisconsin on Nov. 28.

When Kill took a leave of absence in 2013, Claeys was the acting head coach and oversaw a four-game winning streak in the Big Ten and a 4-3 record.

In a statement, Claeys thanked university President Eric Kaler, Interim Athletics Director Beth Goetz and the Board of Regents.

"The circumstances of the past few weeks have been unpredictable," Claeys said. "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," Claeys continued. "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."

Claeys joined Kill's staff at Saginaw Valley State in 1995 and has been with him to help turnaround programs at Emporia State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. Kill said since his resignation that it was important to hire Claeys as head coach to keep his long-tenured staff together at Minnesota.

"I've gotten to know and respect Coach Claeys this past year and watched him work with our student-athletes each and every day," Goetz said in a statement. "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."


Kaler on Claeys: "Tracy Claeys is the right person for this important job. I applaud and fully support Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz's decision to bring continuity and stability to our football program, which is clearly on an upward trajectory. I have great confidence in Coach Claeys and his staff to recruit talent and excellent student-athletes while building on a strong foundation."

Claeys requested that a decision on his future be made by mid-November in order to have a limited impact on recruiting.

The have 17 players, including three four-star recruits, in their 2016 class. Their class is nationally ranked No. 37 by Rivals and 247 Sports and No. 37 by Scout.

Claeys has been nominated for the Frank Broyles Award given to the top college assistant coach in 2014 and 2013. He lists former Indiana men's basketball coach Bobby Knight as one of his top coaching mentors.

Knight won three NCAA national championships with the Hoosiers and the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

"For what he accomplished in Bloomington, I thought was amazing compared to other places that have other resources," Claeys said last week.

What overshadowed Knight's illustrious career was an incident in 1985 when he threw a chair across the court during a game. While the soft-spoken Claeys wouldn't do that, he believes in a firm approach similar to Knight's.

"Every now and then that a kick in the butt gets a lot more done than a pat on the back," Claeys said. "You just can't do it all the time. I think kids want discipline and if you don't demand a lot from kids, then you are cheating them. It's how you handle them and, again, it's a personality thing."


Marcus Fuller contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

What To Read Next
Get Local