Minnesota football is coming off an upset win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. But the brief celebratory mood will likely dissipate as the program faces big questions about its future.
Perhaps most notably, the future of head coach Tracy Claeys remains a good deal of a mystery after he so publicly supported players who boycotted team activities in the wake of the indefinite suspensions of 10 of their teammates.
Wednesday, athletics director Mark Coyle released a statement outlining his plans to discuss the future of the program with Claeys.
"Now that our football team has completed its season following an exciting win in Tuesday night's Holiday Bowl, Coach Claeys and I will take this opportunity to reflect on this past season, before sitting down together to talk about the future and my expectations for our football program," Coyle said in the statement.
Despite the good feelings of the bowl win, the program remains in turmoil. Ten players were suspended indefinitely after a university investigation into a sexual assault. Those suspensions spurred the rest of the team to stage a boycott that momentarily jeopardized the Gophers’ participation in the Holiday Bowl. Claeys wholeheartedly supported the group action via Twitter.
But public opinion didn’t side with the players, who ended their boycott just two days later after reading the school’s investigative report — which they admitted they did not read when they began their boycott. The players believed they were defending wrongly accused teammates after a police investigation into the same incident yielded no charges back in the fall. But the university’s investigation had different consequences, and the still-suspended players could face criminal charges as well as expulsions or varying degrees of suspensions.
Recently, Claeys has spoken openly about his not-so-certain future, and petitioners are calling for him to lose his job.
All that exists simultaneously with the success Minnesota has had on the field over the past few seasons. Claeys took over as head coach in the middle of last season after the abrupt retirement of Jerry Kill and led the Gophers to their first bowl win in more than a decade. The win in this week’s Holiday Bowl gave Minnesota back-to-back bowl wins for the first time since 2003 and 2004. The nine-win season was just the program’s eighth ever and only its second since 1905. The Kill/Claeys combo has led the Gophers to at least eight wins in three of the last four seasons.
Of course, the turmoil facing the program stems from nothing that occurred on the football field, and the winning likely won’t be too big a part of the conversation when Coyle and Claeys meet.