Tracy Claeys carried the interim tag for exactly two weeks before it was removed Wednesday, making him the new Gophers football coach in a move that has been expected.
Some people might feel the hiring was rushed, but if viewed in practical terms, university officials did the right thing, the smart thing, the logical thing. Claeys is a safe choice as coach because he’s a terrific defensive mind and he knows the unique challenges that Minnesota presents.
For continuity sake, keeping him in position to build on what Jerry Kill started makes sense. Current players wanted Claeys to be their coach. Recruits wanted him. A handful of prominent boosters that I’ve spoken to in the past two weeks wanted him.
In the big picture, Claeys is ready for this role. He was nominated for the Frank Broyles Award (top college assistant) the past two seasons and he’s transformed the Gophers defense and made it the program’s bedrock. That feat still seems absurd considering the program’s woeful history of defense.
Now, as we witnessed in the Michigan game, Claeys must improve his decision-making in game management, but his handling of those moments should evolve and sharpen as he gains more experience calling the shots.
Claeys also must understand that his new position demands more than coaching Xs and Os. He’s now the most visible person at the university, a responsibility that requires him to make time for boosters and sponsors and alumni and many others who share an emotional investment in the program. Whether he likes it or not, his position will force him out of the film room and into the spotlight as the new face of the program.
Some won’t like this move because the school elected to skip a national search, but realistically, the timing made that a difficult option. Ideally, a new athletic director would hire the new football coach. That’s how things usually work. But this isn’t a normal circumstance. The school likely won’t hire a permanent athletic director until spring, at the earliest.
The university seems determined to conclude two ongoing investigations into the athletic department before hiring someone to run the department. No school is going to hire a football coach in June. That’s not realistic. The Gophers have lined up their best recruiting class in years and those recruits want and deserve to know who their coach will be before the February signing day.
Plus, eight BCS programs have openings right now, including two others in the Big Ten – Maryland and Illinois. In terms of profile and desirability, the Gophers’ job doesn’t rank high on that list of openings.
In other words, they probably wouldn’t get one of the hot names being floated for job openings. That’s not being defeatist. That’s being realistic
about the situation, especially with the uncertainty with their athletic director. The three-year contract given Claeys offers some protection for the school, too. If things are not progressing in the short term, the new AD can make a move without a huge financial penalty.
The university could’ve gone outside for a perceived “home-run” hire, but that also brings unknowns. Could be great, but also could be a colossal flop. And again, who would even conduct that search and make that hire right now?
The university knows what it has in Tracy Claeys. He’s a good coach, a smart man, someone highly respected within his program.
The university did the right thing Wednesday. They hired the right guy at the right time under weird circumstances.