From a freshman player to recent alums to Gophers greats, the reaction inside maroon and gold circles to the firing of football coach Tracy Claeys was overwhelmingly colored in anger and disappointment.
Freshman linebacker Carter Coughlin wrote on social media, “I’ve always been really mindful about what I tweet,” before adding an expletive about the decision. He added another tweet in which he wondered how officials arrived at the “idiotic decision.”
Over a half-century before Coughlin’s time at the U, fullback Judge Dickson was a member of the 1960 national championship team. Their generational difference wasn’t apparent in their similar reactions.
“He was made the scapegoat,” Dickson said Tuesday. “They felt like someone had to go, and they took it out on Claeys.”
Claeys was fired Tuesday by athletic director Mark Coyle. At the center of the situation was Claeys’ support of his team’s boycott over its perceived lack of due process for 10 players suspended in connection with an investigation of an alleged sexual assault. Claeys was a week removed from finishing with a nine-win season after the Gophers defeated Washington State 17-12 in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27.
News emerged shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday that Claeys has been dismissed after a meeting with Coyle, and it didn’t take long for players to start reacting on social media.
Departing senior defensive back Jalen Myrick underscored the tension between players and administration that has developed during the recent players’ suspension. He tweeted: “Fire the coach that stick with his players ... it’s sad how this administration doesn’t care about the players at all.”
Freshman linebacker Kamal Martin praised Claeys for rallying the Gophers to the bowl victory and wrote of the news, “I am sick to my stomach.”
One of the stars of bowl game was junior safety Adekunle Ayinde, who made the late-game interception that led to the winning touchdown. He responded to Coyle’s comments Tuesday evening. “[Coyle] said we need to compete at a high level: Record 9-4,” Ayinde tweeted. “We need to compete academically: team cumulative GPA above a 3.0.”
“Really hard to make it a proud Alum sometimes!” tweeted MarQueis Gray, a Miami Dolphins tight end and former Gophers quarterback. “Claeys was a great coach and did a damn good job this year!”
Chicago Bears running back David Cobb, who in 2013 was the Gophers’ first 1,000-yard rusher in seven years, tweeted: “During a very tough time coaches stuck by players and supported very difficult decisions and went on to have best season in a while.”
Jim Carter, a former Gophers captain and Green Bay Packers standout, said he’s interviewing Wednesday to be considered as a future member of the board of regents. But he will have a more difficult time holding back his emotions on what the football coaching staff is going through.
“I’ve been through a lot with these guys,” Carter said. “To see them be treated this way is more than I can express. It’s so hugely disappointing. I can’t put it strong enough how misguided I think it is.”
Former Gophers receiver Ron Johnson, who covers the Vikings for KMSP-TV, understands this was a business decision by the university. But Johnson reached out and received an e-mail back Tuesday morning from Coyle about doing something to help the players moving forward.
“[Coyle] said there is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Lou Nanne, who is leading the effort to help raise funds for the U’s new athletic facilities, said the school made the wrong decision during an interview on KFAN radio.
“The fact is [Claeys] made a mistake, a big mistake … But I’ve seen people put their foot in their mouth a thousand times,” Nanne said. “I don’t know if someone should lose his job for that. ... I’m totally flabbergasted.”
Dickson, a retired attorney living in Florida, was concerned that the Gophers program will suffer even more after the decision to fire Claeys because policies that led to the issues still are in place.
“I still think in order to fix the problem, the leadership has to be fixed at a higher level up the chain and not at Coach Claeys’ level,” he said. “It seems to me that it is very bad when they pick on the lowest-level guy in the chain who has the least amount of power and set the program back that much further. We’re going to have to pay more severance pay. And once again it’s starting all over with building the morale of the team. I just feel like he was made the scapegoat.”
Dickson would like to be part of a committee that could look into the due process procedures at the university and see how things can be improved.
Gophers donor and alum Mark Sheffert, chairman and CEO of Twin Cities-based Manchester Companies Inc., agreed that the entire process needs to be under scrutiny.
“First of all, I do not in any way support sexual abuse, misbehavior or rape at all,” he said. “But I think the process that was employed here was questionable by many. I think it’s going to hurt the university.”
Staff writer Michael Rand contributed to this story.