Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys stepped in as acting head coach during a critical juncture in the Gophers football program’s progression and helped launch a four-game winning streak that altered the course of last season. With spring practice set to begin Tuesday, Claeys spoke to the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q News came out recently that head coach Jerry Kill got a new deal, but included in that was an increased pool of money for assistant coaches. I don’t imagine it changes how you work, but what does it say to you?
A We’re very appreciative of what President [Eric] Kaler and [athletic director] Norwood Teague have agreed to do. ... We feel good that there’s a mechanism in there now that allows us to be competitive with our peers. … It continues to show the commitment to build a Big Ten championship type of football program. That commitment, in the eyes of people on the outside, hasn’t been there in the past.
Q There was a lot of turmoil last year. With how Jerry is doing now, does this feel now more like business as usual as you head into spring ball?
A There is no question. ... It’s great that they’ve gotten things worked out with [Kill’s] situation and the energy he has. He’s been tremendous, and it really started back in December. As a staff, we were a little concerned once he started with all the travel again and if he’d get worn down, but he’s had more energy than he’s had in the last few years.
Q How do you replace a potential first-round draft pick, and what is Ra’Shede Hageman’s NFL ceiling?
A I think he could go as high as No. 15. When he does personal workouts, he’ll continue to climb. … You get a guy like that once every five years. With Ra’Shede, maybe it’s one in every 10 years just because of his size and athletic ability. ... We’ll need a little more out of all of them. But Cameron Botticelli played awfully well. Scott Ekpe had a great year with the reps he took. I think we have the kids to do it, but we’re not going to have that one dominating guy.
Q Were you surprised by quarterback Philip Nelson transferring?
A No, I really wasn’t. ... By the way we finished the year at quarterback, it didn’t surprise me that he wanted to go somewhere else and try something new. From my perspective of it, Mitch [Leidner] had a redshirt year and fit in better with where we were going than what we were doing. Philip must have felt the same way.
Q What’s one thing about Tracy Claeys that most people don’t know?
A Well, really it’s two things. Baseball is my second love. It all comes down to away from football, the world is in too damn big of a hurry. I enjoy my free time and I like things that are relaxing with no clock. … Baseball, I love the game because there is no clock and they just play. And my other love is fishing. Those are two things with no clock involved where I can just relax.