It was all good just a week ago.
Funny what seven days can change. Tracy Claeys sat at his Holiday Bowl postgame press conference, a trophy to his left and beaming players around him. It was cool when you had hella wins to tout — the bowl game made nine, most for Minnesota football in 13 years.
“It’s a simple saying but it’s very true,” Claeys offered in response to a question about recruiting. “Winning solves a lot of problems.”
He’s not wrong. Winning does solve a lot in college football — perhaps too much. To that end, the University of Minnesota drew its line. Seven days removed from the Holiday Bowl, Tracy Claeys is out as Golden Gophers head coach.
The possibility Minnesota athletic brass would release Claeys lingered, even amid the Gophers’ celebration in America’s Finest City. ESPN.com’s Kyle Bonagura broached the subject of a contract extension following the 17-12 defeat of Washington State.
“That’s not important,” Claeys insisted. “What’s important is you walk in the locker room and you see the smiles on the kids’ faces: That’s what’s important, because it’s just as bad when you walk in there and we haven’t won.”
He hit the right notes on that front, putting emphasis on the players above himself. Ironically, a similar approach can explain Tracy Claeys being fired after a season that would net a lengthy deal in today’s climate of symbolic contracts.
You’ll often read of major brands firing entry-level staffers for insensitive use of social media. Claeys is the first head coach dismissed, essentially, for the same.
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
Let’s go back a week further, beyond the Holiday Bowl. Minnesota players made national headlines when they announced their boycott of “football activities” until 10 suspended Golden Gophers were reinstated.
The boycott didn’t last. Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, who served as spokesman for the boycott, played a pivotal role in the Gophers’ Holiday Bowl win with five receptions for 73 yards. Funny what seven days can change.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of nobody wanting to be here,” quarterback Mitch Leidner said. “It’s just a matter of we wish our brothers would be here with us.”
Leidner also defended Claeys in the wake of his firing.
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner: “This is terrible decision by the administration. This is a pretty sad day for Gopher football."
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) January 3, 2017
Leidner’s sentiment is understandable on some level, without context. This was the oath, to the top or broke.
The nature of the Title IX investigation into the 10 suspended Gophers, however, exposed the boycott as tone deaf. The demand University President Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle be “held accountable for their actions” oozes irony, given the circumstances.
And Tracy Claeys’ tweet wrapped a bow around the tone-deafness. #HasTracysPlanLandedYet?
For an AD who didn’t hire Claeys to have Claeys’ players publicly challenge his job, going in a different direction is an obvious choice. Names will get thrown around, whether it’s P.J. Fleck, Craig Bohl or Bo Pelini. No matter the choice, Minnesota’s drawn its line.
Winning won’t solve every problem.