Tracy Claeys filled a defensive coach opening Monday by getting longtime Gophers athletics administrator Dan O’Brien to return to his roots.
O’Brien, whom many considered a candidate for the school’s athletics director job, is still a coach at heart. Claeys tabbed him to be assistant defensive backs coach, where he will work alongside Jay Sawvel, who is the leading candidate to become defensive coordinator.
Claeys created two offensive coaching openings Sunday when he fired offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski.
O’Brien will be filling the defensive opening created when Claeys got promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach after Jerry Kill’s retirement. He also will also work with special teams and serve as assistant to the head coach.
“I tried to get Dan to join the coaching staff the last time we had an opening, but the timing was not right for him and his family,” Claeys said in a press release. “Dan has been a head coach, a coordinator and an assistant coach at the collegiate and high school level and nobody knows our state and Minnesota football better than him.
"He will certainly make us better on the field, but will also help us succeed off the field in fundraising, community engagement and recruiting Minnesota.”
O’Brien, 52, was the head football coach at Bemidji High School and at Concordia-St. Paul before becoming a full-time athletics director, first at Concordia and then for six years at Hamline.
In 2008, he joined the Gophers as the director of football operations. He moved to a senior associate athletics director position, helping oversee football, in 2013.
O’Brien was an All-MIAC defensive back and two-time captain at St. Thomas, where he earned undergraduate and master’s degrees. He was an assistant football coach at Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Lakeville High School before getting the head coaching job at Bemidji.
His job will also include recruiting in Minnesota along with Mike Sherels, the team's linebacker coach.