Embattled Claeys out as Minnesota football coach

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Minnesota has fired embattled football coach Tracy Claeys after meetings with school officials, the school announced Tuesday.

Claeys met only with Coyle on Tuesday, but Coyle had the full support of the board of trustees and university president Eric Kaler, a school source said.

Coyle said in a statement that he needed to address “challenges in recruiting, ticket sales and the culture of the program.”

Minnesota’s decision comes just over two weeks after the football program became embroiled in a standoff with the administration over the suspension of 10 players in connection with allegations of sexual assault.

Minnesota’s initial focus on Claeys’ successor is Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, although a source close to Fleck told ESPN there has not been any contact between the school and the coach.

Some Minnesota assistants learned of Claeys’ firing through social media before the school informed them.

Minnesota senior quarterback Mitch Leidner told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy he was “extremely surprised,” calling it a “terrible decision by the administration” to fire Claeys and saying he would be “shocked if any coach wants to come and work for an administration that doesn’t support their coach.”

“This is a pretty sad day for Gopher football,” said Leidner, a four-year starter who holds at least seven school records.

Leidner said the team also learned of the news on social media. Shortly after, Claeys sent a text to the team: “The school decided to fire me. I wouldn’t change anything in the world. I love and support all of you. Best of luck.”

Leidner said he wonders how many players with eligibility will come back.

“No one is happy with the administration right now. I don’t know who would want to be a part of this program at this time,” he said.

Claeys led the Gophers to a 9-4 record this season, including a win over Washington State in the National Funding Holiday Bowl. He had taken over as head coach midway through the 2015 season after Jerry Kill resigned because of health reasons, and agreed to a contract that ran through the 2018 season.

Minnesota’s nine wins marked its second-highest win total since 1905 (Minnesota had 10 wins in 2003). Also, Claeys was the first Gophers coach to win his first two bowl appearances with the school.

In a statement last week, Coyle said he and Claeys would take some time to reflect on the season before deciding how to proceed.

Claeys came under heavy criticism for a tweet in which he voiced support for Minnesota players during their two-day boycott last month. The boycott came in response to the university’s suspension of 10 players following a Title IX investigation into an alleged sexual assault.

Claeys later said he should have used different wording but reiterated his support for the players. He also pledged to donate $50,000 to support victims of sexual violence.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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