With Jerry Kill on an indefinite leave of absence as he attempts to find a way to manage his epilepsy and continue coaching, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will move forward with defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys as acting head coach. Kill is expected to miss his second straight game Saturday against Northwestern on the road, and beyond that his status for the rest of the season has to be considered uncertain.
Claeys first worked under Kill as defensive line coach in 1995 at Saginaw Valley State, and has been defensive coordinator for Kill at every stop he has made along the way since then, from Emporia State to Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois and now to Minnesota. That kind of loyalty surely should be admired, but could Claeys prove himself to be head coach material over the rest of this season?
All indications are Claeys is a low-key personality, and in his press conference on Tuesday he re-enforced that the Gophers’ football program “always will be” Kill’s and he said he received a call from Kill on Monday night.
The Gophers’ schedule is not easy from here on out, with Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State coming after Northwestern along with a road game at Indiana in early November, so getting the two more wins required for bowl eligibility is not a given. One of the first decisions Claeys had to make as acting head coach was who will be the starting quarterback against Northwestern, and he named Mitch Leidner the starter for Saturday but added Philip Nelson may also see action. In any case, the fact Claeys did not go the route of avoiding naming a starting quarterback in an effort to keep the Wildcats’ coaching staff guessing is a positive sign to me.
Claeys will turn 45 in December, so he is still a fairly young man and has only served as a head coach in any capacity on the occasions where Kill’s condition has prevented him from coaching. So this is shaping up to be an opportunity for Claeys to prove his mettle as a head coach if Kill misses games beyond this weekend, and if the Gophers win a few games with him on the sideline other schools will have to take notice after the season.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.