Tracy Claeys retreated to his office for a few minutes after practice Wednesday night before returning to the field to conduct an interview.

He smiled and noted that he was able to finish a few tasks before his media obligation. His responsibilities never end. Only some of them involve X's and O's.

Claeys' title is Gophers football head coach. A more accurate description would be CEO/crisis-manager/father-figure.

The time he devotes to actual coaching — watching video, devising schemes, correcting mistakes — represents only a fraction of his job. By his estimation, Claeys' coaching duties have shrunk "at least half" since being promoted from defensive coordinator.

That shift in focus requires an adjustment for every first-time head coach. Coaches are judged primarily by wins and losses, but the scope of their job extends well beyond their record.

Claeys' first full season in charge is a testament to that reality.

His two coordinators — Jay Sawvel and Jay Johnson — have lost their fathers this season. Johnson's dad died last Saturday before the Penn State game.

Linebackers coach Mike Sherels nearly died after suffering a health emergency during fall camp. Claeys visited him almost every day in the hospital.

Claeys also suspended four players — including two of his top three cornerbacks — while they were being investigated by Minneapolis police for a possible crime. No charges were filed and the players returned to practice this week.

Claeys has learned that, as head coach, many people, not just players, depend on him to be an organizational rock.

"When you're the head coach, emotionally, you feel like you're responsible for their whole family," he said. "I'm more worried about everybody's well-being on the staff than I ever was as an assistant head coach."

This season essentially is a prove-it platform for Claeys. He has a small contract buyout and a new boss in Mark Coyle. The Gophers need to win to reassure Coyle that the program has the right guy.

Claeys deserves high marks for his handling of difficult circumstances. He's provided steady, supportive leadership while stressing to his team that the season doesn't pause for hardship.

If he didn't fully grasp it before, he realizes now the true depth of his responsibility in overseeing an entire program.

"I didn't understand just mentally how it drains you when something happens to other people on the staff," he said. "You feel responsible for them, and I admit I had no idea of that."

Claeys admits those serious off-the-field situations rattled him. After each one, he takes 30 minutes or so to regain his perspective and formulate his plan to keep everything together.

Claeys approaches problems with an analytical mind. He believes in simple, straightforward handling of matters.

"We ask our kids and coaches, while they're here in the building, we're working on football and concentrate on it," he said. "And then we make sure that there's time during the day to think about those other things that happen."

Head coaches often joke that the one thing they miss most is being able to coach. They miss sitting in dark rooms studying video. They miss hands-on teaching in practice.

Their job becomes a big-picture blur of media sessions, booster functions, meetings and brushfires that require immediate attention.

Claeys says he finds game day more enjoyable as head coach because he gets to help both sides of the ball. And he's responsible for clock management, a critical duty. Few things annoy fans more than bad clock management.

Claeys adjusted his weekly schedule to allow him time to watch video with his coaches so that he's in tune with their game plans. He also sought advice from peers about how to manage his day-to-day involvement.

"If you can't be in that [film] room most of the time, don't be running in and out of there giving them ideas and telling them how to do things," he said. "There are some coaches that say their head coaches will come in on Thursday morning and erase a bunch of their plays and go, 'No, we're going to do this.' I've listened to people who've told me don't do that."

He has final say on every decision, though, because every happening within the program belongs to him now.