Fired Gophers football coach Claeys defends his leadership after report

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — Former University of Minnesota football coach Tracy Claeys is defending himself after an outside review blamed “weak leadership” by the coaching staff for a threat by players to boycott the Holiday Bowl.

Claeys wrote a commentary that appeared online Wednesday. The review released last week found the university followed law and policy properly when it suspended 10 players last year following an accusation of sexual assault.

Claeys backed the boycott, but players ultimately decided to play and beat Washington State 17-12. Claeys was fired a week later.

Email newsletter signup

Claeys says in hindsight he would have refrained from using social media to support the team’s decision.

“This was too complex and important an issue to address in a 140-character message,” Claeys wrote. “It generated more questions that it answered and likely created more problems than it solves.”

But Claeys says as a coach, he respected his team’s decision, “responsibly addressed the situation and quickly defused the boycott.”

A student accused several players of sexually assaulting her at a party last September. Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence. But the university suspended the players following an internal investigation.

The woman alleged that she was pressured into having sex with multiple Gophers football players after a season-opening win over Oregon State. The players who acknowledged having sex with her called it consensual.

In September, Claeys suspended five players for the reported sexual assault. When prosecutors declined the following month to file charges, Claeys pointed out, the university reinstated those players.

“At the time, I was congratulated by our athletic director for my handling of this issue and promised that I would remain the head football coach in 2017,” Claeys wrote.

But after an internal investigation, the university suspended the five players again in December and suspended an additional five. Members of the Football Leadership Group and other team members “felt strongly that administration officials had overstepped their authority and that the accused players were treated unfairly and denied protection under due process,” Claeys wrote.

Gopher athletics spokesman Paul Rovnak said the university would have no comment on Claeys’ commentary.

A report by the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action department determined the 10 players, including several who did not have sex with the woman, violated the student conduct code. Of the 10 suspended players, four were fully cleared by the EOAA report and remain on the roster: quarterback Seth Green, running back Kobe McCrary, cornerback Antonio Shenault and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.