Gophers give new coach Claeys high marks
DETROIT -- Gophers upperclassmen appreciate how coach Tracy Claeys lets them play in practices and games and corrects them later, although that doesn't mean Minnesota has a country-club atmosphere."We like to say that Coach Claeys is the type of ...
DETROIT - Gophers upperclassmen appreciate how coach Tracy Claeys lets them play in practices and games and corrects them later, although that doesn’t mean Minnesota has a country-club atmosphere.
“We like to say that Coach Claeys is the type of guy that will send you home if you’re not doing what you are supposed to be doing,” said junior quarterback Mitch Leidner. “He’s kind of like a silent assassin that way.”
Claeys is more soft-spoken than predecessor Jerry Kill, whom Claeys replaced Oct. 28. Claeys, for instance, doesn’t spend much time getting fiery in speeches to the team.
“The best motivation is what comes internal; that’s playing for the love of the game,” Claeys said. “If you have to motivate kids with a bunch of external things all the time, that motivation usually runs out at some time during the game.”
Gophers senior linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said Kill, the Big Ten coach of the year in 2014, and Claeys are “great coaches,” but they have different methods.
“If you aren’t doing what you are supposed to, Coach Kill will get on you about it, but Coach Claeys is more laid back,” Campbell said.
With some tutorials delayed on how the defense might have handled the no-huddle or a certain blocking scheme, Campbell said it frees his mind.
“Telling me in a game or in practice, then I’m thinking about it, and it ruins my whole flow,” Campbell said.
Junior offensive tackle Jonah Pirsig said the approach allows players to figure out their faults. “We can self-diagnose what went wrong,” Pirsig said.
Claeys felt something amiss with offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover calling most of the run plays and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowksi calling the passes. Under that format, Kill sometimes would be the final decision maker.
“I felt like that was best to have the offense straightened out and put one guy in charge, so everybody knew who the boss was,” Claeys said.
When Kill stepped down, then-interim coach Claeys said he would go over to Kill’s home to get notes after the 29-26 loss to Michigan on Oct. 31.
Claeys was named full-time head coach on Nov. 11. When it came time to let go of Limegrover and Zebrowski, whom Kill and Claeys had both worked with since at least 2010, Claeys didn’t reach out to Kill.
“I didn’t think that needed to be consulted with anybody,” Claeys said. “That’s a personality thing for me.”
Claeys said he weighed the decision to let go of Zebrowski and Limegrover for a few weeks before he did so on Nov. 29. The move came the day after the 31-21 loss to Wisconsin, and Claeys said it was done as a courtesy to allow them to find their next jobs.
Limegrover reportedly turned down an opportunity earlier this week to return to Southern Illinois as head coach. He told the Pioneer Press after he was fired that he’s interested in returning to his offensive line-only coaching roots.
Claeys said he has recently talked to Kill on the phone a few times. Claeys reported that Kill, who has dealt with an extreme lack of sleep and seizures, is working on rebuilding his energy.
When Kill stepped down, an option in his contract said he could be retained at the university with an agreed-upon job paying up to $200,000.
Those discussions haven’t happened yet, Claeys said. “I think he’s getting his rest back and his energy back, so after the first of the year, I’m sure that will all be addressed how that will fit in,” Claeys said.
Claeys also has said that possible hires for an offensive coordinator/skill position group coach and offensive line coach likely will come after the Gophers play Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday.
On the field, Claeys said the let-them-play mentality is about keeping a good pace in practice and simulating games.
“We have little buzzwords in between plays that we try to use, but when you are on the field, you have to get as many reps as you can,” Claeys said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.