Tracy Claeys: Gopher scapegoat
Usually leadership at NCAA Institutions like Big Ten schools with 45,000 students comes from university presidents. Not at Minnesota, where President Eric Kaler has done his best recently to bungle the important role of the athletic program.
He places academic achievement as his number-one priority, and in many ways under his watch he has undermined the importance of the athletic program, which drives the revenue streams for university athletics.
It’s been called dysfunctional: The clear incompetence and laxity of administration leadership have pushed the Gophers to the verge of being a national joke. Last week, Head Football Coach Tracey Claeys was fired after becoming the first Gophers football coach to win both of his first back-to-back bowl games.
Claeys took over after previous head coach Jerry Kill resigned because of health concerns during the 2015 season; Claeys was his top assistant. In his first full season, he led the Gophers to a 9-4 season with the second-most wins by a Gopher team since 1905, including the 17-12 win over Washington State in the December 27 Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
When Claeys became head coach, the University did not have a full-time athletic director because Kaler dropped the ball. That was on the heels of longtime respected athletic director Joel Maturi resigning.
Kaler has long been casual in his support of Gophers athletics, and it shows. He has burn scars to prove it. Kaler hired a search committee to find his next AD, which is a sure sign of a president with a lack of commitment to his athletic program and one of the key reasons why the Gophers have not been in the Rose Bowl since 1961.
Norwood Teague was the guy recommended by the committee to the uncommitted Kaler, and he hired him from Virginia Commonwealth. Teague was supposed to elevate the athletic program and was believed to be a great fundraiser.
The first thing Teague did three years ago on arrival was fire as men’s basketball coach the highly respected Tubby Smith, one of the best coaches in college basketball. Smith had won an NCAA Championship at Kentucky before taking the Minnesota job. After six seasons, he was fired.
Three times Smith led the Gophers to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Smith beat UCLA in the NCAA tournament in his final win, and during the year even upset number-one Indiana at Williams Arena for the first time in school history. Never before in 100 years of Gophers basketball had the men’s basketball coach reached the NCAA tournament three times in six years.
Teague proved in short order that he was in over his head. He was fired after it was discovered that he was a campus sexual predator, harassing women administrators and media females with sexual advances. It was one of the most embarrassing and expensive mistakes in school history. The program has become a laughing stock in college athletics thanks to President Kaler.
For two years, the U of M athletic program has been without a full-time AD. Richard Pitino was hired by Teague to replace Smith. After three years and zero NCAA appearances, last year the young Pitino was 8-23, the worst season in school history.
Not until last fall was Mark Coyle hired as full-time athletic director. He is not the best communicator according to some. He did not hire Claeys, and it showed — he recently barbecued him in a news conference and fired him last week after the football team in September had four Black players accused of sexual misconduct with a female student.
Claeys suspended the players for three games because the university has a student code of conduct policy that allows Title IX investigators to launch their own independent investigation even after university and Minneapolis police had conducted an investigation into the alleged assault of the woman using video and audio of the sexual act captured on tape by the players. No charges were filed.
Three weeks ago, 10 Gopher players were suspended by the university after the Title IX report was issued. The football team’s remaining players announced a planned boycott of the Holiday Bowl game, demanding the 10 players be reinstated. Thirty-six hours later, after meeting with Coyle and reading the 82-page Title IX report, the players withdrew their boycott protest.
After his players announced their planned boycott, Claeys tweeted his support of their right to protest, not of the actions of the accused suspended players. The confusion of Claeys’ support angered some. Coyle used the opening to fire Claeys and hire his own guy, P.J. Fleck, who led Western Michigan to a 13-1 season and a trip to the January 2 Cotton Bowl.
Fleck will make $3.5 million a year over the next five years while the suspended Gopher football players await a hearing on their fate and suspensions. Kaler still has job, and his mistakes are evident. His lack of leadership and poor decision-making are clear and are costing this university a small fortune.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to email@example.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.