Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys was fired Tuesday as pressure mounted outside university halls to oust him.
Activists calling for his termination expect to continue with their plans to rally Wednesday afternoon outside the university’s Morrill Hall. The noon rally is titled “Stand With Survivors: Fire Claeys.”
In a Facebook post, rally organizers said Claeys’ termination is “a step forward in addressing rape culture but we have a long way to go. Come to the rally to stand with the University of Minnesota and their decision and to make it clear we will continue to fight the current climate surrounding sexual assault.”
Earlier Tuesday, Global Rights for Women, based in downtown Minneapolis, wrote a letter to university President Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle urging them to fire Claeys and supporting “a no-tolerance policy for sexual assault.”
Minutes after he was fired, Helen Rubenstein, the group’s program director, said, “We’re happy the university made this move and is taking a public stand.”
But she said the university can’t stop with “just firing the coach.”
“They have to continue to put measures in place to protect women,” she said. “It will take a comprehensive effort.”
Before Claeys was booted, an online petition garnered more than 3,400 digital signatures demanded Claeys be fired “for failure of leadership and lack of sound judgment.”
At issue was Claeys’ support of his players who staged a boycott after 10 of their teammates were suspended from the team in connection with an alleged sexual assault.
Petition organizers focused on a tweet from Claeys and said that the coach’s message “fails to acknowledge the tragic, historic mistreatment of women, demonstrating that he is not an appropriate or effective leader for young people. … We believe he put the welfare of his football program above the welfare of a female student.”
On Dec. 15, as his players decided to boycott all team activities, Claeys tweeted: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”
Hennepin County has twice reviewed the case and declined to press charges, but an internal investigation by the University’s office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) led to the suspensions.
Pushing to oust Claeys, rally organizers posted on Facebook: “We need a football coach who represents the values of the University. Claeys’ words and actions in the wake of his players’ disgusting choices are reprehensible.”
University officials met Tuesday reportedly to discuss Claeys future. Among those attending were Regents chair Dean Johnson and vice chair David McMillan were meeting with Kaler, Coyle and university general counsel Douglas Peterson, according to Star Tribune sources. Amid the calls to fire Claeys, his supporters urged university officials to keep him.
After Minnesota defeated Washington State 17-12 in last week’s Holiday Bowl, former Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Claeys delivered one of the “greatest coaching jobs of all time.” The Gophers were 10-point underdogs headed into the game.
“With all that stuff going on, and all the things those kids have gone through — from their old coach to the new coach to all the stuff they had to handle — that’s flat unbelievable the job those guys did,” Kill said. “ [Claeys] deserves a darn contract [extension].”
Others lining up behind Claeys include Darrell Thompson, former Gophers running back and current Gophers radio analyst. He tweeted simply: “I support Tracy Claeys and His coaching staff.”
A separate online petition to keep Claeys as coach garnered about 2,200 digital signatures.
Claeys, 48, was 11-8 as Gophers head coach, including 2-0 in bowl games, since replacing Jerry Kill, who resigned for health reasons in October, 2015.
The Gophers won nine games this season for the first time since they went 10-3 under Glen Mason in 2003. But on Dec. 13, Coyle suspended 10 players from the team indefinitely in connection with the alleged Sept. 2 sexual assault. Claeys’ support of the boycott put him at odds with his bosses.