Gophers' Claeys says team can win 8 to 10 games this fall
By Andy Greder St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- From vital fundraising to fixing the dented men's basketball program, new Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle has many challenges awaiting him when he takes the department's reins in June. Bu...
By Andy Greder
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - From vital fundraising to fixing the dented men’s basketball program, new Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle has many challenges awaiting him when he takes the department’s reins in June.
But Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys is confident a 6-7 season in 2015 was an aberration, and his program is poised to be a point of pride for the U this fall.
“I believe this is our best football team since we’ve been here,” Claeys said Monday. “We’ve played well and competed.”
Before his promotion in November, Claeys was Jerry Kill’s defensive coordinator during consecutive eight-win seasons in 2013 and 2014, which included the program’s first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1962.
“It’s hard to put a number on it,” Claeys said about 2016. “Eight to 10 wins. Well, you win nine, and for around here they (haven’t) won 9 games in a (heck of a) long time.”
Winning at least nine games - which hasn’t been done since a Glen Mason-coached team won 10 in 2003 - likely would include what Claeys deems more important: being in the division title race in late fall.
“We’ve got this thing to where each year when you get to November, we should be in the talk of still playing for the championship of the Big Ten West,” Claeys said. “The good thing is, now with Mark’s background, he can hopefully bring in some ways of doing that. I feel very good that is the path we’re on right now.”
Claeys was out of town when Coyle was hired last week, so they spoke by phone. They will meet in person after Coyle starts full time in early June.
Claeys said he is enthused by Coyle’s resume, highlighted by stops as associate AD at Minnesota (2001-05), deputy AD at Kentucky (2006-11) and AD at Boise State (2011-15).
“I do like the fact that he’s been here at the University of Minnesota, so he has an understanding of how things work. But on top of that, he’s been at places where they’ve been (darn) good at basketball and they’ve been (darn) good at football at Boise,” Claeys said. “I hope he combines all those experiences together, and I think that’s what makes that right now look like a really good fit for where we’re at and where we want to go. That’s the good part: It’s not like he’s never been any place that’s been successful.”
Norwood Teague, the previous permanent AD before sexual harassment allegations forced his resignation in August, did not have experience with a high-level football program. Before coming to Minnesota, Teague was at Virginia Commonwealth, which was known for its recent success in men’s basketball.
Coyle helped keep Boise State as one of the top college football programs when was AD there. Boise State was dealing with NCAA rules violations in five sports before Coyle arrived, but the Broncos were able to overcome those problems and won the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, which was then a marquee BCS game.
“What’s important to me is he found out what it’s like to go somewhere, and it’s true: The athletic department’s built around that football program,” Claeys said.
When Kill stepped down in late October, interim AD Beth Goetz helped Claeys receive a three-year, $4.5 million contract in November. Claeys credited Goetz with putting a high level of importance on the football program.
“So very grateful for that, not just hiring me, but even when coach Kill was here, she knew the things that needed to be done for us to continue to move forward, and she’s done those things,” Claeys said.
Claeys appreciated that Coyle also initially spoke to Kill after he got the job.
“It meant a lot to me that he reached out and visited with coach Kill a little bit, too,” Claeys said. “Because I get frustrated, and I know it, but I don’t buy that the football program is in shambles, and that everything’s falling apart, or the whole athletic department (is falling apart), I just don’t buy that. We haven’t had a full-time boss, obviously, but Beth’s done a great job under the circumstances, so it’s not like we haven’t been moving forward. So that’s the good part, to finally get a full-time boss and get moving. But I feel good about where we’re at.”