Gophers head football coach Tracy Claeys was fired Tuesday afternoon with Athletics Director Mark Coyle citing frustrated fans and donors surrounding the off-the-field issues with the program.
A replacement for Claeys has not yet been named. Coyle said the school will “move quickly” to find a new head coach.
Along with Claeys, nearly all of his assistants also lost their jobs, Coyle said Tuesday.
“I made a very difficult decision,” Coyle said at a press conference Tuesday evening. “I thought it was in the best long-term interest of our football program to make this change now.”
Claeys had been with the program since Dec. 2010, joining as a defensive coordinator to former head coach Jerry Kill. He become the interim head coach after Kill resigned from the role due to health reasons in October of 2015.
The decision comes shortly after the team staged a two-day boycott of all football activities on Dec. 15 — including the Holiday Bowl — in protest of the suspension of 10 players for their connection to an alleged sexual assault.
The boycott was lifted two days later and the team won the Holiday Bowl 17-12 against Washington State to wrap up a 9-4 season on Dec. 27.
Claeys publicly supported the boycott after players announced it tweeting, “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”
The former coach’s support for the players sided him against Coyle and University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler.
Coyle said Tuesday that it wasn’t just the tweet that led to the termination of Claeys.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say one thing,” Coyle said. “I think the events over the past few weeks underscored the concerns and some of the things I’ve been seeing in that program.”
Claeys is set to receive the buyout payment stipulated in his contract, which amounts to $500,000. His contract was set to expire at the end of the 2018 season.
The only assistants who weren’t fired were defensive backs coach Dan O’Brien and linebackers coach Mike Sherels.
Coyle said in a statement the two coaches will remain during the coaching transition to ensure leadership in the interim period.
Claeys — who had an 11-8 record during his time as head coach — is one of two coaches since 1971 to end his Gophers career with an above .500 record, joining Glen Mason (64-57, 1997-2006).
The Gophers football team finished the 2016 season with a 9-4 overall record, just the second time since 1905 the team had finished with nine or more wins.
“I saw a team that competed. I saw a team that gave up halftime leads, the same thing you all saw,” Coyle said. “It was just an overall evaluation of the program and moving forward, we want to find a leader who embraces what Minnesota is all about. That’s what our goal’s going to be.”
Coyle had thrown his support behind Claeys at the end of the regular season in November amid reports the former head coach was up for an extension.
The 10 players were suspended Dec. 13 after the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action finished their investigation of the alleged sexual assault that took place Sept. 2.
Five players are being recommended for expulsion, four for a one-year suspension and one for probation. Their appeal process is expected to begin sometime in January.
After the Holiday Bowl win, Coyle issued a statement – exactly a month after his one supporting Claeys – saying he was going to meet with Claeys to discuss expectations.
On Tuesday, Coyle said Claeys acted professionally, and was disappointed, but understood Coyle’s decision.
Shortly after Claeys termination was announced, Gophers football players took to Twitter voicing their displeasure over the decision.
“I get they’re upset. I get they’re frustrated,” Coyle said. “It’s our job to find a leader who will take this program forward and unite all of them in one direction, one goal.”