First-year University of Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle fired football coach Tracy Claeys and most of the team’s assistants Tuesday while calling for a cultural overhaul in Gophers sports.Thoughts? Yeah, I have a few:
Coyle gave a blistering assessment of the football program, which has been engulfed in turmoil for three weeks, and declared Tuesday night a need for more “integrity and class” across athletics.
Gophers football has been roiling since Dec. 13, when Coyle suspended 10 players in connection with an alleged Sept. 2 sexual assault. The players responded with a two-day boycott, and Claeys publicly supported their stance, pitting him against the administration.
- Even if the scandal hadn't taken place, there was a better than even chance Coyle would have ashcanned Claeys anyway. The most important person in any D-1 athletic department is the head football coach, and I'm certain Coyle wanted to have his own guy in there.
- I have no way of knowing how much Claeys knew about the incident on Sept. 2, but he should have handled things differently. I understand the instinct of standing with your players, but your players don't sign your paycheck. Publicly defying your bosses rarely goes well.
- There was a time when the Gophers didn't have institutional advantages over their competitors, but that time is now past. I'm a Wisconsin Badgers fan and I love Madison, but there's no reason the Badgers should be so far ahead of the Gophers. Just the lure of performing in a major metropolitan area, with a dynamic economy, should be a great incentive to play here instead of in Madison. It's even more alarming that the Gophers have generally lagged behind Iowa. I travel through Iowa City regularly these days and while it's a nice, generally prosperous town, it's not exactly a dynamic place. The Gophers should be able to out-recruit the Hawkeyes every time.
- Having said all that, the right hire could change everything. It's easy to forget now, but when Barry Alvarez arrived in Madison in 1990, the Badgers fielded horrible teams in football and men's basketball. There had been no real success in either sport for 30 years. Alvarez changed that and his athletic director, Pat Richter, gave him and basketball coach Dick Bennett the institutional support he needed to build a program. In 2017, the Badgers are almost always in the Top 25 in football and have been a Top Ten program in better years. They have also been a consistent NCAA tournament team in basketball. The Gophers aren't anywhere near that level. Is there another Barry Alvarez out there? If Coyle can find one, things can change.
- Of the coaches who might be candidates, I'd be looking at either Craig Bohl or Chris Klieman. Klieman is the head coach at North Dakota State and Bohl, the head man at Wyoming, is his predecessor. The Bison have been one of the best smaller college programs around and both guys know how to win. Chasing Les Miles or Chip Kelly would be a mistake. The hottest name out there is P. J. Fleck, the coach at Western Michigan, but I have a feeling he'll be headed elsewhere.