One year after getting fired as Gophers football coach, Tracy Claeys landed as the defensive coordinator at Washington State, the same school he beat in his final game at Minnesota.
Claeys, 49, signed a two-year contract Monday to work under Washington State coach Mike Leach, a person familiar with the situation told the Star Tribune.
Washington State confirmed the hiring in a release, in which Leach said, “Tracy comes highly recommended as a tremendous teacher, strategist, and a player’s coach with an impressive body of work that has withstood the test of time.”
Claeys could not be reached for comment Monday.
“I would like to thank Coach Leach and Washington State University for the opportunity to coach the Cougs!” he said in the news release. “I am looking forward to getting to Pullman, working with a great staff and getting to know the players.”
Washington State’s previous defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch, left this week for a position at Ohio State.
In two seasons as Gophers coach, Claeys went 11-8, capped with a 17-12 upset over Leach and the Cougars in the 2016 Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
Washington State entered with the nation’s No. 2 passing offense, averaging 40.3 points per game. The Gophers were missing 10 suspended players, including several defensive backs, yet still shut down the Cougars and quarterback Luke Falk.
That victory improved Minnesota to 9-4, marking the first time the Gophers had won at least nine games since 2003.
Athletic director Mark Coyle still fired Claeys a week later, with the Gophers embroiled in a sexual assault scandal. Two weeks before the bowl game, the university suspended 10 players for their roles in the assault. The rest of the players, feeling several of those suspended had been unfairly accused, boycotted practice for two days, threatening not to play in the bowl.
Claeys supported the players, tweeting: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”
Five of the 10 suspended players were later cleared, with four expelled and one suspended from school for one year.
The university commissioned an outside review by the Dorsey & Whitney law firm, which blamed the football turmoil on “weak leadership” from the coaching staff.
Claeys responded with an editorial that said, in part: “As a coach I respected my team’s decision, responsibly addressed the situation and quickly defused the boycott. Could it have been handled more smoothly? Maybe. Could it have gone much worse? Without a doubt.”
Claeys had a long run as a defensive coordinator under former Gophers coach Jerry Kill and was nominated in 2013 for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant. When Kill resigned for health reasons in October 2015, Claeys took over as acting head coach.