The Gophers could've entered an already crowded coaching carousel to seek the replacement for the 2014 Big Ten Coach of the Year, or they could turn to the guy who's been picking up experience on the fly for years now.
Tracy Claeys, the former defensive coordinator who filled in for Kill when the head coach stepped away due to medical conditions in 2013 and went 4-3, nearly led the Gophers to an upset of Michigan in his first game this year and had Minnesota within a score of Ohio State late.
That the Michigan game came down to questionable coaching in the final minute is certainly the sign of a coach still picking things up on the fly, and it's probably too early to judge whether things will always go that way with Claeys in charge.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers were only in the head coaching market because successful previous coach Jerry Kill stepped down due to illness in October. Kill was in no danger of losing his job and in fact had signed an extension in August.
Our Minnesota blog looked at the cases for and against hiring Claeys. From the positive portion:
Continuity isn't always a bad thing and there can be a lot of good coming from retaining Claeys as your head coach. I think most people expect recruiting to stay intact as long as this coaching staff returns. The current coaching staff, it is assumed, would largely stay intact. Jay Sawvel gets his opportunity to be a defensive coordinator and continuity on the staff remains. This is valuable and underrated.
The players know what to expect with this staff and rather than starting from scratch, they all have the opportunity to continue the forward momentum of the program.
If we are talking about results on the field, one could argue that Claeys has done quite well when put in some difficult positions. His first game in 2013 was at Michigan where the team learned that Jerry Kill was not going to be there within a day of kickoff. That game was a loss. But following that the team went on a 4-game win streak winning a couple road games and then beating Nebraska (9-4 that year) and Penn State (7-5). This year he has had two games as the guy calling the shots and his team has come up short both times. But the eye test tells me that this is maybe the best they have played all year, it just so happened to be that they were facing Michigan and traveled to Ohio State. All of that to say that Claeys has had his team well-prepared and they have generally executed well in times of great distraction.
I think this is the best move Minnesota realistically could've made this time around. There are already nine other FBS teams looking for head jobs, and where the Gophers stack up in that order is not always going to be a friendly question to answer, especially with ridiculous levels of turmoil in the UM athletic department.
Kill built something solid at UM, with consecutive eight-win seasons after his predecessor's final three-win effort, and it's hard to think of a better way to try and keep that going.