Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle publicly voiced support for football coach Tracy Claeys on Monday, and two sources familiar with the situation said contract extension offers are coming soon for Claeys and his staff.
Coyle issued a statement that said, in part: “He is our head football coach. As is the case with every one of our head coaches, he has my full support.”
According to the sources, Coyle actually notified Claeys a month ago that the coach would be coming back next season. With Claeys on the road recruiting Monday, they spoke by telephone, with Coyle reconfirming that commitment.
“Our football program has now won eight games in the regular season three times in four seasons,” Coyle’s statement said. “We expect that our program will continue to grow and I am committed to putting us in a position to do so.
“This includes working with Coach Claeys to evaluate where we need to improve and what each of us can do to ensure we meet our expectations.”
Coyle’s public statement didn’t mention an extension, but those talks are expected to commence as soon as Claeys gets a break in recruiting.
Claeys, 47, has gone 10-8 as the team’s head coach since taking over when Jerry Kill resigned for health reasons in October 2015.
Under then-interim AD Beth Goetz, Claeys signed a three-year, $4.5 million deal last Nov. 11.
With a relatively small buyout — about $500,000 — the deal was designed to give the new AD time to evaluate Claeys this season.
Coyle was hired from Syracuse in May and saw the Gophers go 8-4 during the regular season, including 5-4 in the Big Ten.
All four of Minnesota’s losses came to teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 — No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 8 Penn State, No. 22 Iowa and No. 23 Nebraska — and Minnesota blew second-half leads in each one.
For fans, the pain was particularly acute last Saturday. The Gophers led Wisconsin 17-7, only to get outscored 24-0 in the second half, when Mitch Leidner threw four interceptions. That extended Minnesota’s losing streak against Wisconsin to 13 games.
But the Gophers will learn their bowl destination Sunday and still have a chance for their first nine-win season since they went 10-3 under Glen Mason in 2003.
When asked about his future earlier this month, Claeys told KFAN (100.3-FM) he’d definitely like an extension.
“Hopefully it’s something that will be addressed at the end of the season,” he said. “And mainly from a recruiting standpoint — if you’ve got three years left on a deal, recruiting’s gone very good. But you get down to two, and it can be a little tough.”
Claeys’ nine assistant coaches have contracts that are set to expire after next season.
When told that Coyle voiced support for Claeys, Gophers recruit Javan Hawes, a receiver from Tyrone, Ga., said, “I like that a lot because he’s been doing great things for that program. It’s good for me because I’ve already started to build relationships with those coaches.”
Hawes is a consensus three-star recruit. He gave the Gophers a verbal commitment last July and just finished a standout senior season at Sandy Creek High School. He’s one of several Minnesota recruits scheduled to make an official visit to campus Dec. 9-10.
National Signing Day is Feb. 1, so this is a crucial recruiting window for Claeys and his staff. And now they’ll be able to cite the public support they just received from the boss.