Tracy Claeys said Monday that he’s not going to “blow up the whole offense” and start over, despite firing the Gophers’ top two offensive coaches.
“I love 75-80 percent of what we do,” Claeys said. “This isn’t going to be a total overhaul.”
So don’t expect the Gophers to adopt the spread offense, or the “Air Raid,” anytime soon. Claeys hinted that the team would continue with its run-heavy, play-action, read-option attack. He said the search for a new offensive coordinator could last into January to ensure that he finds the right fit.
Who might that be? Claeys didn’t tip his hand, and it’s tough to even speculate. Recent Big Ten offensive coordinator hires have disparate backgrounds. Iowa’s Greg Davis, 64, had resigned under criticism at Texas before taking the Hawkeyes job in 2012. Michigan’s first-year coordinator Tim Drevno, 46, was considered a rising star as USC’s offensive line coach.
Sunday was tough, Claeys said, letting go of quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski and Matt Limegrover. Limegrover wore two hats as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, and those two shared play-calling duties for five seasons.
Claeys, promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach after Jerry Kill retired, said he wants “one boss on the offensive side of the ball.”
“Had it been structured with one guy in charge and doing all that, I could’ve lived with it, I really could’ve,” Claeys said. “That was structured where Coach [Kill] was the buffer in between the two play callers. [Kill] was on the offensive side of the ball all the time. I don’t want to be on the offensive side of the ball all the time.”
Claeys said he enjoyed spending equal time in offensive and defensive meetings over the season’s final weeks. He did say he’ll continue having a heavier hand on defense, since that’s his background.
Limegrover had worked with Claeys and Kill for 17 years, with 15 spent doubling as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. The two-pronged job became particularly taxing this year, when the Gophers lost three offensive line starters to injury.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner was under constant pressure and struggled before hitting a midseason groove. The Gophers bottomed out, offensively, in a 10-7 nail biter over Kent State followed two weeks later with a 27-0 loss at Northwestern.
Limegrover acknowledged Sunday that he was spread too thin and that he didn’t feel he was fully effective in either role.
“I think it’s too hard to be the offensive coordinator and the coach of the offensive line,” Claeys aid. “I think the offensive line coach should be in the trenches with those guys during the game. He should worry about helping them be successful and not worry about calling the plays.”
Claeys wants one coach to concentrate solely on the offensive line.
“In an ideal world, [the offensive coordinator] would be a quarterback coach,” Claeys said. “I’m also not going to pigeonhole myself. If we find somebody that we feel can really help us, maybe he is more comfortable doing the tailbacks, rather than the quarterbacks.”
Claeys said the rest of the offensive staff is flexible. He said running backs coach Pat Poore, wide receivers coach Brian Anderson and tight ends coach Rob Reeves are all staying aboard.
December is a busy recruiting month, so most of Claeys’ interviews might wait until the Jan. 10-13 national coaching convention in San Antonio.
“I won’t [make the hires] without face-to-face meetings, so whatever that takes,” Claeys said. “We’re not going to make a mistake and do it too quick. … It could be sooner than [Jan. 10], I guess. But if we’re going to error, we’re going to err on the side of being a little slow and make sure we have the right person. We’re going to pick somebody who fits in and is part of the family. It’s just not going to be based on Xs and Os.
“That’s important to me because we have good kids here, and we’ve had good coaches here who take care of kids and care about kids. And that’s not going to change.”