Tracy Claeys was cordial about it, but the Gophers coach made it clear Wednesday night that he’s through talking about the players’ recent boycott and his job security ahead of the Holiday Bowl.
“I don’t have time to worry about my job,” Claeys said. “I love working with the kids, and that is my responsibility, to make sure they are prepared.”
With the Gophers set to play Washington State on Tuesday in San Diego, Claeys used his latest media session to try pointing attention toward the game itself.
Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes tension between players and the university administration appears to have eased a bit. The players held a two-day boycott last week to protest the administration’s handling of 10 player suspensions in connection with sexual assault allegations stemming from a Sept. 2 incident.
The players tried to emphasize that they weren’t condoning sexual violence but were speaking out about the process. Namely, that players could be suspended from the team without appeals hearings, and with university President Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle offering minimal explanations, citing privacy laws.
Emotions still were raw Sunday, one day after the boycott ended. According to sources, some hard-liners still wanted to boycott the bowl but backed down with the majority clearly in favor of playing.
The players met again Monday, this time to talk about getting everyone on the same page when discussing the boycott. That night, 12 veteran players met with the Star Tribune and said they ended the boycott so they could play another game and continue speaking out about the lack of “due process” they feel their suspended teammates have received.
“We speak for the entire team,” senior Nick Rallis said. “So when I’m talking right now, there’s 111 guys that I’m talking for, that have my back, and same with everyone else.”
Sophomore Blake Cashman has a younger player’s perspective. He said the team’s veteran leadership group has done a good job conveying the boycott’s full message.
Rallis and the other seniors will move on, but Cashman still has two years remaining in the program.
“I have no worries about our future and what kind of opinions people are going to have toward this program,” Cashman said. “Because I think we stood up for something that we believed in, and we stayed true to that. And that’s something that myself and my teammates will never be ashamed of.
“Hopefully by the end of all this, everything is fixed with the due process, and going forward, things will be handled more effectively and more responsibly.”
Claeys tweeted his support for the players during the boycott. He had told them that their uprising could cost him his job, and his tweet publicly aligned him against the administration. On Sunday, Claeys said he had “very good” conversations with Coyle over the weekend.
Asked Wednesday if there had been more meetings with Kaler and Coyle, Claeys said, “I’m not going to get into that. That is not going to be a media discussion on things like that. We need to handle all that type of stuff behind the scenes.”
Claeys was more interested in talking about the Washington State game. He said the team’s “effort and energy” has been good at practice.
And this is a program that has been through plenty of tough emotional times, with former coach Jerry Kill’s health issues, linebacker coach Mike Sherels’ intestinal surgeries in August, and with both coordinators — Jay Sawvel and Jay Johnson — losing their fathers earlier this season.
“It would make a heck of a book, that’s for sure,” Claeys said. “We’ve been challenged all along, all through the year, and we’ve still showed up and played and fought our tail ends off.”