Carter Coughlin’s anger was there for everyone to see. The University of Minnesota had just fired football coach Tracy Claeys, and Coughlin was on Twitter, venting.
How can someone makes such an idiotic decision...
— Carter Coughlin (@Cmoe34) January 3, 2017 ">
And his next tweet, on the same subject, included a profanity.
Coughlin was one of the previous staff’s signature recruits. When the Eden Prairie standout picked Minnesota in March 2015, despite serious interest from Ohio State, Michigan, Oregon, USC, Notre Dame, etc., it was a sign of how far the Gophers had come.
Even when Jerry Kill resigned that fall, Coughlin stayed committed, citing his attachment to Claeys and then-linebackers coach Mike Sherels.
Coughlin made four tackles, including a sack, in the Gophers’ 17-12 upset over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. Despite the team’s 9-4 finish, Claeys was fired one week later, in the fallout from an alleged September sexual assault involving multiple Gophers players.
Three days after ousting Claeys, athletic director Mark Coyle replaced him with P.J. Fleck.
“Obviously, when something like that happens, it’s tough just because there’s so many preexisting relationships,” Coughlin said Saturday. “But at the end of the day, life throws things at you.”
Coughlin credits his parents for counseling him through the transition. Bob Coughlin was a Gophers defensive lineman, and Jennie (Moe) Coughlin was a three-time first-team All-Big Ten tennis player for Minnesota.
“They’re so full of wisdom for me,” Coughlin said. “They said, ‘At this point, you can either sit and complain about it, or you can go all in.’
“I think that’s kind of how it was for a lot of guys on this team, and it happened at different times for different players. Obviously some guys decided to leave, and that’s on them, but for everybody else, everybody’s buying in.”
Since Claeys was fired, three of last year’s starters have transferred — center Tyler Moore (to Oklahoma State), guard Connor Mayes (TCU) and Gaelin Elmore (next school to be determined).
But the Gophers remain loaded at linebacker with returning starters Jonathan Celestin and Cody Poock, along with Blake Cashman, Julian Huff, Jaylen Waters, Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber.
To keep more of that talent on the field simultaneously, defensive coordinator Robb Smith has moved Coughlin to the ‘R’ position, where he rushes off the edge, along with defensive end Tai’yon Devers.
Fleck said it’s a sign of how “selfless” Coughlin is, the way he’s accepted the role.
“It’s really fun,” Coughlin said. “I got to experience it a little bit last year. But this year it’s more of a four-down type of deal, as opposed to last year when it was just third-and-long.”
Coughlin also is one of 36 players who are part of Fleck’s “Leadership Council.” Three-quarters of those players were voted in by peers, with representation from each class, freshmen on up. Fleck picked the other players based on his view of their leadership potential. The council meets with the head coach once a week.
“Coach Fleck is an unbelievable leader, and it’s shown by the fact he gets thousands of dollars to [speak],” Coughlin said. “It’s sweet because all the guys on the leadership council get to experience that leadership first hand, just for free.”
Coughlin said Fleck has taught the council numerous “life lessons.” All these returning players got a big one two months ago. They know what it’s like to get a new boss.
Another O-line hit
Bronson Dovich suffered an unspecified injury, leaving the Gophers with only four healthy offensive linemen for Saturday’s practice. They were scheduled to scrimmage, but this prevented them from doing any 11-on-11 drills.
Fleck said Dovich could miss a few days or even weeks, depending how he heals. Meanwhile, the coaches will continue to improvise. Fleck said he tried something Saturday he hadn’t tried before: a 7-on-7 scrimmage. It went surprisingly well.
“That might be what you see at the [April 15] spring game, I don’t know,” Fleck said, smiling.