A lot of people might have been surprised by Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys getting fired following a 9-4 season and a big 17-12 Holiday Bowl victory over Washington State. But in my first column back after being laid up because of a broken hip, I have to credit Patrick Reusse for a column appearing on Christmas Day, two days before the Gophers’ bowl win, when he had the inside scoop on what was going to happen. Everything Reusse predicted in that column came true when P.J. Fleck was hired last Friday.
Reusse’s column verified the information I received from a source close to University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler about how athletic director Mark Coyle originally had a hard time selling Kaler on getting rid of Claeys, but finally convinced him. Coyle had Fleck in his back pocket, and if he couldn’t make a deal with the former Western Michigan coach, he would make a strong effort to hire former LSU coach Les Miles, who Coyle did interview for the job.
Coyle didn’t think Claeys had the personality to help sell football tickets at the University of Minnesota and that the school needed a more dynamic image, which Fleck would give them.
Contrary to what some people thought, 10 players being suspended as the result of a sexual assault investigation and how Claeys handled the situation had nothing to do with him getting fired. It was all about Coyle wanting his own man for the job.
As Reusse reported, there was fear in the ticket office that if Claeys continued as coach, season-ticket renewals might fall below 70 percent.
Reusse also reported, long before Claeys was fired, that the university wanted someone with great salesmanship such as Fleck to be the next head coach.
Fleck has made a big impression so far, but the team hasn’t played one game yet. I believe, in order to bring back the capacity crowds of the ’60s to TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers football promotional department will have to find a better way to engage fans in the 25-54 age group.
Longtime fans are passing away, and the university hasn’t been successful in replacing them by attracting a younger generation of fans. The theory around the U was that a new stadium on campus would attract students and younger fans, but that hasn’t happened.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the appeals committee starts listening to testimony from at least six of the suspended Gophers players, who were penalized after the initial four players were named and suspended earlier in the season. I think there is some hope that some of the recommended full-year suspensions will be cut to three or six months, and that punishment for most of the six suspended after the initial four players will be reduced.
Fleck is being compared with former Gophers coach Lou Holtz, and I see similarities there. I think Fleck will attract more fans, but all that counts is “Win, baby, win,” and the Gophers have a tough schedule next year, as they face Michigan and Iowa on the road and Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin at home in Big Ten play.
And last but not least, do not be surprised if Claeys and his coaching staff file lawsuits against the university, as pointed out by Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick in a recent Star Tribune editorial.
Thanks to many
I have a lot of people to thank for helping me after a tough injury. On Dec. 16, I suffered a broken hip when I fell outside my garage on the way to a 95th birthday party for the mother of attorney Ron Zamansky.
I want to thank Dr. John Anderson and Dr. Pat Smith, who were involved in the surgery. I’ve had two great nurses in Lacey Wheeler and Larissa Lundstrom, who have been wonderful in helping me get back on my feet. Dr. Sheldon Burns also has been great to me, as he has always been in helping when needed.
I’m not 100 percent yet, but I’m making good progress.
For those who have missed my appearances on WCCO Radio, CBS insurance stipulates that before I can go back on the air at 8:40 every weekday morning and on Sunday for the WCCO Sports Huddle, I have to be medically cleared. I hope to be back this Sunday with Dave Mona for our regular show.
• There are four former Gophers playing in the NFL playoffs this weekend. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman are with the Atlanta Falcons, who face the Seattle Seahawks at home on Saturday. Campbell had 48 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble during the regular season. Hageman had 18 tackles and two sacks. Defensive back Eric Murray is with the Kansas City Chiefs, who play at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Murray had eight tackles this season. Damien Wilson is playing linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, who play host to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Wilson had 34 tackles this season.
• While everyone is rightly excited that the Gophers basketball team is ranked No. 24 in the country —its first Associated Press top-25 ranking since 2013 — the better news for its NCAA tournament prospects is being ranked seventh in the RPI. The only teams in front of the U are Villanova (ranked No. 3 in the country), Baylor (No. 1), Florida (No. 23), Kansas (No. 2), Florida State (No. 9) and Creighton (No. 8).
• Former Hopkins standout Royce White has been out of basketball for some time but has recently resurfaced in the National Basketball League of Canada, the top pro league in that country. White was recently named the Central Division Player of the Week after averaging 23.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game for the London (Ontario) Lightning for the week.
• Five Minnesotans, including former Gopher Travis Boyd, have been selected to play in the AHL All-Star Game on Jan. 30 at Allentown, Pa. The other four are Jake Guentzel, Woodbury; Zane McIntyre, Thief River Falls; Charlie Lindgren, a Lakeville native and brother of Gophers defenseman Ryan; and Jonny Brodzinski, Blaine. … Three former Gophers women’s hockey players — Amanda Kessel, Megan Bozek and Gigi Marvin — have been selected to play in the NWHL All-Star Game.
• Jedd Fisch, who was the Gophers’ offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2009, has been named offensive coordinator at UCLA. Fisch spent the past two seasons as Michigan’s passing game coordinator.
Sid Hartman email@example.com