In announcing the suspensions of 10 football players, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler wrote in an e-mail to select boosters that the decision was made by head coach Tracy Claeys in consultation with athletic director Mark Coyle.

Coyle stuck with the company line when addressing reporters, saying he and Claeys consulted on the discipline.

Gophers players called that assertion a lie in a remarkable display of solidarity Thursday night at their indoor practice field. Multiple sources inside the football program also disputed those claims, saying Claeys had no input on punishment and was surprised by the decision.

"[Claeys] doesn't have the power to do that," senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky said. "Mark Coyle has the power to do that, and Mark Coyle did it."

It should be noted that at least two assistant coaches stood alongside players as they delivered ultimatums and criticism of Kaler and Coyle.

Claeys was not available for comment but tweeted: "Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!"

What a colossal mess. The school president and athletic director are saying one thing, people inside the program are saying something else, battle lines are being drawn and the football program basically has been shut down.

This one is amazing even by the Gophers' lofty standards of screw-ups.

The football team put Kaler and Coyle on notice in a very public way, backing them into a corner while engaging in a public stare-down.

Based on their tone, defiance and togetherness, I have a hard time believing the players are going to fold, even if it means skipping the bowl game and receiving harsh backlash from those who don't believe in their cause.

On the other side, Kaler and Coyle must react to their hard-lined stance, and they're not off to a good start. They released a joint statement after the players spoke that basically said nothing in a convoluted way.

This situation is so toxic that I'm not sure any resolution will satisfy all parties. The damage inflicted on the program will be severe and enduring. Can Coyle and Claeys continue to work together after this? The level of mistrust floating through the department must be searing.

Those three leaders — Claeys, Kaler and Coyle — now face enormous challenges.

Claeys showed support for his players in his tweet, which essentially pits him against his two bosses. What does that mean for his future?

Players are demanding that Kaler overturn the suspensions, a fallout of the recommendations by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action after its investigation into the alleged sexual assault.

Kaler and Coyle showed no sign of budging in their statement, writing, "The decision was based on facts and is reflective of the University's values." If Kaler ultimately reverses course, he essentially would be admitting that the school grossly overreached in punishing players. That would severely damage his ability to lead the university.

Coyle has operated mostly in the shadows in his first seven months as athletic director. He said this week that he purposely stays in the background.

"I would hope people would describe me as behind the scenes," Coyle told me during a 30-minute interview Monday. "I am a big believer in low ego, high output."

That leadership style isn't going to cut it now. Coyle has no choice but to emerge from under his rock to take on this full-blown crisis that demands strong, visible leadership.

Coyle is at the center of a standoff that is now a national story. Forget that low-ego stuff. He has mutiny in his football program, and players believe he's to blame for delivering what they described as "unjust" punishment. Coyle won't emerge from this crisis, the first scandal on his watch, unscathed.

Some fans undoubtedly believe the punishment is justified and are disgusted by the players' actions that night. Some fans undoubtedly believe the players, none of whom was ever arrested or charged with a crime, are being unfairly punished.

In a bit of irony — or perhaps naiveté — I asked Coyle during our interview earlier this week if he feels like he has brought stability in wake of the Norwood Teague fiasco.

"I can tell you I'm doing everything I can to bring stability," he said.

What happened inside the Gophers' football complex Thursday was anything but stable.

Chip Scoggins