Gophers DC Tracy Claeys' stock rising, but loyalty to Kill is obvious
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As is his nature, Minnesota Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys does not seek out attention or crave the spotlight that upper-tier college coaching can bring.
However, that spotlight has started to shine on Claeys.
Onlookers have taken notice of his impressive body of work, from overseeing a defense that in three years has risen from a disjointed mess into one of the top units in the Big Ten to the job he did stepping in midseason briefly as acting head coach when Jerry Kill took time to better handle his battle with epilepsy.
With the increased recognition comes the pursuit from other schools, presenting possible job opportunities.
The humble, but always candid Claeys has repeatedly made clear he will listen to the cases made by potential suitors. But a sense of loyalty to Kill, one of his best friends and whose staff he has worked on for 19 years, runs strongly through Claeys.
"I think it's a great honor to be a coordinator at the highest level the (collegiate) game can be played. So to leave that, I don't know how much I would do that," Claeys said.
"Don't get me wrong, if something presents itself I'll make sure I listen, because in the back of everybody's mind you like to say, 'Boy, I could lead my own football team.' I believe I could and be successful. But at the same time, I'm only 44. I've got enough time later on."
Kill's decision to step away from the team for a two-week period in October required Claeys to shift from his typical perch in the press box to the sidelines. Along with a long-tenured coaching staff that has showed the same loyalty to Kill as Claeys, the midyear transition was pulled off almost seamlessly. As Kill and his staff adjusted to the necessary changes, Minnesota rattled off four straight victories en route to an eight-win regular season.
While Kill opted to coach from the press box in the latter weeks of the season, Claeys has stayed on the sidelines. At first unsure if he would like the move, Claeys says now that he had forgotten how much fun it was to coach from field level.
That element of fun and enjoyment is always present when Claeys discusses his situation. When it comes to the possibility of another coaching job coming up, his "we'll just see how it plays out" attitude is genuine. It would take a too good to resist offer to lure him away from Kill's staff.
Claeys admitted he was already approached once this season about another job. However, here he is, still at Minnesota. More offers are expected to come, but it won't be because Claeys is pushing for it.
"I may never get a head coaching job, because I refuse to hire an agent," Claeys said. "I refuse to promote myself. I was raised on if you do good work, work hard, somebody will notice, you will get rewarded. Right now, Killer has rewarded me pretty good."
At a base annual salary of $346,800, Claeys is in the second year of a three-year contract put together in the summer of 2011. He earned an extra $13,000 a week this season while Kill was away, as originally reported by the Pioneer Press.
Claeys likely won't be the only one on Kill's staff to make it on to another program's list of candidates.
It's happened before. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, linebackers coach Bill Miller, strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein and recruiting coordinator Billy Glasscock have turned down offers in previous seasons. Defensive backs and special teams coach Jay Sawvel has also been gaining recognition for the job he has done rebuilding the "U" secondary into a formidable crew.
When Kill took the job in Minnesota, he had one simple request for his assistant coaches before they agreed to join him: "Give me three years." Year 3 with the Gophers will conclude in less than three weeks in the Texas Bowl. Intrigue is likely to continue grow afterward in regards to potential staff turnover.
It wouldn't be a surprise if someone on the staff latches on to another opportunity this offseason, nor should it come as a shock if the group stays intact heading into Year 4.
While he prides himself on the stability he has help create within his coaching staff, Kill is upfront with providing his coaches all the support they need, even if that means aiding them in other job pursuits.
"We never hold anybody back," Kill said. "Our job is to make their lives better, and their lives have been better since we've came to the University of Minnesota. If somebody is going to make their life better and it's a good fit, you understand that. You appreciate that. Our job is to make that difficult and give them as much reason to stay as we possibly can."