Joe Nathan column: University of Minnesota should fire football coach Tracy Claeys

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

As a father, grandfather, educator, taxpayer and University of Minnesota alumnus, I think it’s time for the University of Minnesota to fire its head football coach, Tracy Claeys, and conduct a thorough review of the football program to ensure in the future that standards are upheld and promoted.

Explaining my rationale will include an explicit discussion of sexual activity that some readers may find disturbing and distasteful.

My recommendations come in part from 22 years of teaching at the University of Minnesota and working on projects with the Athletic Department. This included teaching student athletes about leadership at the Athletic Department’s request. This gives me insight into what is and is not appropriate for hosting recruits as well as how some coaches guide and mentor athletes.

First, Claeys failed one of the major responsibilities of his contract: “Recruiting and managing the recruitment of student athletes.” The contract, obtained via a Minnesota Government Data Practices Act request from the University of Minnesota, can be downloaded as a PDF here: http://ow.ly/OfRb307lE8n.

A shocking 80-page University of Minnesota investigative report notes that on Sept. 2, 2016, some current team members brought a youngster, being recruited for the university’s football team, to a room. Several of them, including the recruit, had sex with a woman whose judgment was impaired by alcohol. Some of this was very violent. The woman asserts that several times she asked men to stop.

According to the university report, parts of the sexual encounters were recorded on video and photographed. University officials interviewed 28 students, read electronic messages, viewed videos and studied pictures of the incident. The report, first obtained by KSTP-TV, is available here: http://bit.ly/2hGEfUs.

The report explains that after the initial sexual interactions, much of the ensuing sexual activity was forced. The victim described the scene after the assaults: “The approximately two-foot strip of floor between the bed and television stand was covered with yellow/gold condom wrappers and used condoms. There was a pile of around 12 used condoms on top of a white plastic set of drawers next to the television stand. Semen was dripping down the drawers.”

Coach Claeys failed to convince members of the football team that this kind of activity is not acceptable and that the violators had failed the team, the university and the state of Minnesota by participating in this terrible event. And they reportedly exposed and involved a high school recruit to behavior that is completely unacceptable under university and NCAA expectations.

University of Minnesota football head coach Tracy Claeys. (Photo courtesy of Gophersports.com)

University of Minnesota football head coach Tracy Claeys. (Photo courtesy of Gophersports.com)

Second, in a Dec. 15 tweet, the coach failed to, as his contract requires, “encourage academic and moral integrity and excellence.” As football team members were boycotting preparation for a bowl game, Claeys wrote: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”

Nothing in this tweet reflected disagreement with the mistreatment and assault of a vulnerable young woman by football team members, which the university report documented. Nothing in his tweet mentioned the ethical standards that he and the university expect of all students. Only after the report was released, and students called off the boycott, did Claeys make public statements criticizing violence against women.

Some have defended the team’s boycott (and Claeys’ tweet) by arguing that they were demanding due process for teammates. Some noted that the accused football team members are African-American and that there is a long history of American judicial systems treating African-Americans unfairly. Due process is important. There are many instances of racial injustice.

But Coach Claeys’ public actions during the proposed boycott did not demonstrate respect for women and or make “moral integrity” a priority.

However, Claeys is very well-paid. His contract shows he has a yearly base and supplementary salary totaling $1 million, along with a yearly contribution of $400,000 to $600,000 in a retirement plan. This is more than many people will earn in a lifetime.

The contract contains many other “perks” including this one: Claeys can bring up to four family members or friends on any trip that the team takes to play a game. The university will pay all their travel expenses.

Despite this enormous salary and fringe benefits, Claeys has not provided the kind of leadership and supervision that his contract requires. He had an opportunity to teach and have influence at a time when offenders and the rest of his team sorely needed that guidance and experience. He has not demonstrated that he is a model for other leaders. He will not inspire confidence in parents and prospective student athletes. Minnesotans, and others around the country, are signing a petition urging the university of terminate him: http://bit.ly/2hMeunX.

Claeys is not the only problem that the University of Minnesota has. But firing him is an important step to promoting “moral integrity” at the University of Minnesota. It’s time the university develops a football program that embraces high standards, teaches character and insists on integrity.

 

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].

 

11 Responses to Joe Nathan column: University of Minnesota should fire football coach Tracy Claeys

  1. Ed Dirkswager says:

    Joe’s comments represent the thoughts of many of us who are involved in assisting young persons become ethical and responsible adults. Thanks for saying it so well.

  2. Wanda Sommers says:

    As a mother of three daughters, taxpayer, former high school educator, U of M graduate, and executive of a MN non-profit dedicated to fostering character development, I am deeply saddened that neither the U of M head football coach or the U of M leadership have done the “right thing” by at least taking the simple step of speaking out against this horrifying behavior. The coach, the players, the U of M, and all Minnesotans know there is nothing to be “proud” of in this incredibly sad story.

  3. Dr. Tom King says:

    Good start, Joe…but not far enough in my opinion.

    This tragedy demands a Task Force and a clean sweep of higher-ed administration and athletics, its policies, oversight and its egregious compensations.

    A code of conduct is needed for ALL students, faculty and administrators, not just the athletes. If administration is culpable too, then administration should resign and be replaced by those who understand this need.

    We have a mission statement at St. Thomas: “The University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good.”

    The U of M needs one too.

    Tom

  4. Nancy J Bitenc says:

    I continue to be amazed at the high salaries and perks of collegiate athletics. Thanks for this piece, Joe, and I agree with Tom that a full scale purging and a recast of the purpose in college sports needs to happen.

  5. Peg Larsen says:

    Joe you hit it right on! I am so glad I get your column!
    As a person who works in the field to prevent sexual assault I greatly appreciate your knowledge and words.

  6. Sylvia Witz says:

    Well stated, Joe. The whole thing has been disgusting. Thank you for caring.

  7. Brendan McCabe says:

    I don’t understand the excerpts detailing the coach’s pay and benefits, including the part about his family being able to travel to games. It seems irrelevant; no matter what you are payed, any university official or personnel should be a opponent of sexual assault. I feel like those points were made to further a personal agenda, rather than explain why a man should lose his job based on the independent actions of 18, 19, 20 year olds.

  8. JOHN BELINSKI says:

    By detailing the coach’s pay it appears that Joe is jealous of how much the coach makes. Coach Tracy is being paid less than most Big 10 coaches.
    Then Dr. Tom King wants us to believe that St. Thomas has never had a problem with any of their students since St. Thomas has a code of conduct. That is BS and I am very surprised he would make a comment like this. I can only assume he would resign if any his students broke the code of conduct.

  9. Joe Nathan says:

    Thanks for all of these comments. More than 3,100 people from more than 40 states now have urged that Claeys be fired.

    In terms of Claeys pay – I think athletic salaries are outrageous and reflect poorly on university priorities – not just at the UofM. It seems clear to me (and thousands of others that Claeys is not capable of carrying out his job in an ethical way. Moreover, he is being paid a huge amount to do it. He is not a good leader of representative of Mn values and should imho be fired. Joe Nathan

  10. Joe Nathan says:

    Thanks for all of these comments. More than 3,100 people from more than 40 states now have urged that Claeys be fired.

    In terms of Claeys pay – I think athletic salaries are outrageous and reflect poorly on university priorities – not just at the UofM. It seems clear to me (and thousands of others that Claeys is not capable of carrying out his job in an ethical way. Moreover, he is being paid a huge amount to do it. He is not a good leader of representative of Mn values and should imho be fired. Joe Nathan

  11. Rick says:

    I believe that you are shooting too low on the U of M totem pole- I believe that Kaler and Coyle are also accountable for this mess at the U. I am not impressed by the behavior of all who were involved in this incident including the young 22 Woman. I really have a problem with Coyle who based upon his comments in the news paper comes across as a “Political Weasel” who really doesn’t say much but carefully crafts his responses. Let’s face it as in most companies “Top Leadership” including the board of Regents must be held accountable not just Coach Claeys. I am also a Graduate of the University of Minnesota, was a Teacher and Head Football coach for 10 years prior to moving into business. One thing I have learned over the past 40 years of working in the Education System and Business sector is that the Top Administrators do not want anything to stick to them nor will they ever admit doing something wrong. Maybe we should just eliminate athletics at the University of Minnesota since it seems to be such a troublesome department. Regardless Happy New Year for 2017 -Cheers Rick

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