Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Gophers start over, again

That didn't take long:
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.

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.
Thoughts? Yeah, I have a few:

  • 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.


Unknown said...

Well said, as always, D.

Unfortunately, the chasm between the expectations of the Gopher fan base and the reality of who will be interested in the program remains at a Grand Canyon-sized level. You mentioned it yourself, but the locals truly believe Fleck, Miles or Kelly will be touching down here. Now, I've seen Lou Holtz and Tubby Smith come to the U of M, so it isn't impossible, but it's extremely unlikely and moreso after the way the University handled Claeys.

There were a lot of factors that went into the decision to fire Claeys, and I agree with your assessment that most of it stems from Claeys not being Coyle's hire. But in essence looks like Claeys was fired over a tweet. One tweet that was, on the surface, inoffensive but ill-advised. If I'm a hot prospect or established coach, even setting aside the program's ineptitude on the field and fan expectations (which is a lot to set aside), does it look like the administration will throw me under the bus if the public pressure gets hot enough? I'm sure the reality of the U's decision is more complicated than that, but it wouldn't surprise me if the circumstances scare off some potential hires.

So it's back to square one. In my lifetime, that's at least the 7th or so time the program has worked to rebuild.

Bike Bubba said...

If the firing was justified, it wasn't over the tweet, but rather over evidence that a big portion of the football team was aided and abetted in a rather perverse culture, methinks.

Way to stop it; take STD treatments off the football team's medical plan. Probably not legal, but that would get players' (pun intended) attention in a hurry.

Bike Bubba said...

Might be Fleck after all, but with the indictments of two players for armed robbery--the same guys have a bunch of other arrests as well and a couple of convictions--suffice it to say that I'm not sure the U. is serious about setting a new tone. The bright side is that Fleck does have a lot of guys with good academics at Western.