Big Ten

Interim label removed as Tracy Claeys named Gophers' next head coach

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Interim label removed as Tracy Claeys named Gophers' next head coach

Just two games after being named Minnesota's interim head coach in the wake of Jerry Kill's sudden retirement, Tracy Claeys had that interim title removed Wednesday morning.

It was Kill's hope and expectation that Claeys would take over as the team's next head coach, and the Gophers obliged, announcing a three-year deal for the former defensive coordinator Wednesday.

"I want to thank president Eric Kaler, interim athletic director Beth Goetz, the board of regents and the university for believing in me and providing me with this opportunity," Claeys said in the announcement. "The circumstances of the past few weeks have been unpredictable. This certainly is not the way anyone wants to become a head coach. Coach Kill is one of my best friends, and I am thankful that he took a chance on me 21 years ago. I am looking forward to continuing what we have built at Minnesota but will do so in my own way. One thing that won’t change will be our relentless pursuit to field a team that will make the state of Minnesota proud. We have tremendous fans, and they deserve a highly competitive football team. Our student-athletes will play smart, tough and accountable football and will be held to the highest standards on and off the field."

[MORE BIG TEN: Jerry Kill fights tears during emotional exit, and so do we]

Claeys, like much of Kill's coaching staff, had been with Kill for a long, long time. Claeys joined Kill's staff at Saginaw Valley State in 1995 and joined him as defensive coordinator at Emporia State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, totaling 21 years as one of Kill's assistants.

In five seasons, Kill transformed the Gophers into a contender for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. After winning just three games in his first season in 2011, he reached bowl eligibility the next and delivered back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2013 and 2014, just the 18th and 19th seasons with at least eight wins in program history.

But Kill was forced to retire a couple weeks ago due to health concerns and his ongoing battle with epilepsy. He had been bothered by seizures during games and at other times, and the demanding profession was having too negative an effect on his health to carry on.

Claeys coached the Gophers in their past two games against Michigan and Ohio State, both losses to two of the nation's highest-ranked teams. Claeys also served as acting head coach in 2013, when Kill took a seven-game leave of absence to better handle his epilepsy. The Gophers went 4-3 during that span, part of an eight-win season.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Gophers gear right here]

In the past two seasons, Minnesota has ranked 25th and 33rd nationally in scoring defense under Claeys, allowing averages of 22.2 points and 24.2 points per game, respectively.

"I’ve gotten to know and respect coach Claeys this past year and watched him work with our student-athletes each and every day. I admire his dedication to their development on the field and in the classroom," Goetz said. "Given the improvement of this program, both academically and athletically, and coach Claeys’ integral leadership role, we have great confidence that he is the right coach to lead this program and our student-athletes."

"Tracy Claeys is the right person for this important job," Kaler said. "I applaud and fully support Interim athletic director Beth Goetz’s decision to bring continuity and stability to our football program, which is clearly on an upward trajectory. I have great confidence in coach Claeys and his staff to recruit talent and excellent student-athletes while building on a strong foundation. But make no mistake, Tracy Claeys is his own man and will bring his own energy and commitment to excellence while embracing Gopher Athletics’ culture of compliance, both on and off the field."

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.