Minnesota Fires Coach Who Backed Player Boycott

January 4, 2017

The University of Minnesota has fired its head football coach, the Star Tribune reported Tuesday. The coach, Tracy Claeys, faced intense criticism last month after his players threatened to boycott the Holiday Bowl over the suspension of 10 teammates who had been accused of sexually assaulting and harassing a female student.

"Have never been more proud of our kids," Claeys wrote on Twitter after the boycott was announced. "I respect their rights [and] support their effort to make a better world!" Even after the boycott ended, Claeys continued to say he supported his team, saying that the tweet "was all about [him] supporting their actions to try to improve the due process." Following the coach's comments, local sports columnists questioned whether Claeys should have his contract extended, faculty members publicly condemned his comments by calling the tweet “a terrible thing” and a petition called on the university to fire the coach.

The boycott initially attracted sympathy from many alumni and those concerned about issues of due process, but support for the university's stance grew as details emerged about what happened to the female student, in particular after a redacted version of the university's equal opportunity office's report on its investigation was published online. Contrary to the team's comments, the 80-page report shows that the football players were interviewed, their assertions were considered and they were not all judged equally responsible for what happened. The report also details why the university found that four of the players engaged in sexual assault and others engaged in forms of harassment, such as videotaping the victim without her consent. None of the players face charges for the alleged assault.

"I made a difficult decision today on behalf of the University of Minnesota," Mark Coyle, Minnesota's athletic director, said in a statement Tuesday. "With the support of Board of Regents leadership and President Eric Kaler, I have decided to take the Gophers football team in a different direction with new coaching leadership. I determined that the football program must move in a new direction to address challenges in recruiting, ticket sales and the culture of the program. We need strong leadership to take Gopher football to the next level and address these challenges."

The coach's earlier comments in support of the team's boycott, Coyle said, were "not helpful."

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