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Did Minnesota punt on its coaching search by hiring Tracy Claeys so early?

Maybe, but nothing assures a program of Big Ten glory more than being good at punting.

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Jason: So Minnesota's already out of the coaching market, hiring multiple-time interim Tracy Claeys to replace Jerry Kill for the next three seasons. I think this is good, and you think this is bad. I'll grant you the microphone first to explain why this is bad.

Matt: I don't really understand the urgency. Claeys isn't an unknown quantity as a head coach, after all. He took over when Kill needed to take a leave of absence in 2013, going 4-4, including a Texas Bowl loss to Syracuse. He's 0-2 this season, with one of those losses coming as a direct result of his own inability to handle clock management. Minnesota probably won't be favored in any of its remaining games, which means Claeys could go 0-5 this year, knocking Minnesota out of a bowl.

I understand that Minnesota has an interim AD, but what could UM have seen so far that made it think it couldn't possibly do better in the open market? Was Minnesota's 2013 win over Nebraska that impressive?

Jason: First of all, clocks are hard. Claeys has shown Les Miles-ian abilities to manage them, and we would agree Miles would be an excellent hire for Minnesota. Miles knew Bo Schembechler.

If Claeys can't get past fellow interim Bill Cubit at home against Illinois, then that's a concern, but otherwise, we're worrying about games against four of the Big Ten's best teams. That he's gone .500-ish in two stints despite being thrown into the golden throne with a coaching staff down one man due to his boss' medical condition is hardly a full picture.

The thing about that market: What was Minnesota going to do that's so much better, with an athletic department hemorrhaging admins and a roster full of players who adored Kill and feel the same about ClaeysIs Minnesota even the Big Ten's second-best available job right now?

Matt: It probably isn't a good a job as Maryland, but it certainly isn't bad. Minnesota has a new stadium and pretty good facilities. Its assistant coach pool under Kill was smack in the middle of the Big Ten. Revenue wise, Minnesota's actually near the upper half of the Big Ten, making more money than Nebraska or Michigan State. Sure, the state doesn't produce a ton of great high school players, but Minneapolis is a great city, and it's not like Chicago or Michigan are thousands of miles away. It's not a bad job.

The AD instability is a major factor, but it appears the interim AD is the favorite to get the job, and it's not impossible for an interim AD to hire a good coach. Michigan seemed to figure it out.

There's a risk in whatever decision you make, but I don't really see what's so amazingly exciting about Minnesota's status quo.

Jason: Every hire is a roll of the dice. Even if Minnesota pulled off an apparent no-doubter like landing Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck (there is zero chance the Gophers would've been able to beat everyone for Tom Herman or Justin Fuente), every factor that makes sense on paper becomes a crapshoot. I see continuity as another of those factors. It sure worked at Clemson, for one extreme example.

Claeys' team was only in position to blow its game against Michigan by playing Jim Harbaugh dead even. Claeys was within one score of Urban Meyer with two minutes to go last Saturday. The thing people like about Minnesota is its scrappy, overachievey, gritty, gritidude scrappiness, and the Gophers showed every sign of keeping that going against the conference's two teams that most completely overwhelm UM in sheer resources.

Who's the realistic option that has Minnesota in better shape next season?


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Matt: Yeah, I think that's part of the appeal over the Kill/Claeys era. They rarely get blown out against good teams. But they also don't *beat*​ those teams, which leads to clobbering a few creampuffs and Purdues, and then some forgettable bowl loss (Minnesota hasn't won a bowl since 2004, under Glen Mason).

If you're okay with that, this doesn't matter. But I don't see why we'd think the Claeys era would bring a substantially higher ceiling that what we've already seen. Meh recruiting, bad QB play, excellent defense and power football, and seven-ish wins. If Purdue, Illinois, etc. ever get better, you're limited even more.

Minnesota could have made a play for Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who is an Iowa guy and has experience along the western side of the Big Ten. It might have been able to make run at Bowling Green's Dino Babers or Illinois State's Brock Spack or a slew of talented Big Ten coordinators (like Michigan DC D.J. Durkin). It's possible all would flame out more than Claeys in three years, but all would bring an upside that isn't there now and wouldn't break the bank.

By not even really taking a look at the marketplace, it just seems like Minnesota is punting. Which it seems to do a lot.

Jason: The day a Big Ten West school doesn't improve its odds by punting is the day I hang it up, Matt.

The thing about new hires is their resumes always sound great, but are they better than Kill's was? If we buy that Claeys is an extension of Kill, then we're talking about a regime that won everywhere it went before Minneapolis. That's the same thing offered by these apparent upgrades, and Minnesota gets it without an overhaul.

I can see Babers (who'd likely be more drawn to Illinois because of ties to the state or Maryland because of, uh, having experience scoring lots of touchdowns in its stadium) as an exciting option to probably win about the same number of games. But it's going to be hard for anybody to translate a good LinkedIn profile into a Big Ten title at Minnesota. Considering Kill was a couple touchdowns or so from a division championship last season, giving Claeys three years to do that as the athletic department settles down makes sense.

The question of "Why now?" is the big one, since giving Claeys the chance to score an upset or at least beat Illinois would've made for better PR. On the other hand, why not show recruits right now that the school's behind this guy?

Matt: Well, Kill ​sort of​ won everywhere. Kill was 0-5 in bowl games overall, finished just 29-29 at Minnesota, and only beat two good teams, both nine-win Nebraska teams, the entire time he was there. Granted, that's still a big upgrade, given how much of a dumpster fire the Tim Brewster era was, and going from losing to FCS teams to clobbering them is not for nothing. But after watching a lot of Minnesota, I never felt like this team was that close to making a leap. It's good at staying competitive, and if you can do that and still go 7-5 most of the time, I guess you can have a good career at Minnesota.

I don't think expecting Big Ten titles at Minnesota is realistic, but can this program afford to tread water? Illinois is probably about to get a better coach. Purdue will probably make a change next season. Nebraska isn't going to suck forever. This recruiting class is an exception, thanks to some quality in-state kids, but Minnesota has been one of the worst recruiting programs in the conference. I'm not sure I see much that would make me feel confident in doubling down on this strategy without even giving a serious look at alternatives.

Jason: Or 26-20 if we exclude that first year of Brewster recovery, because not every new Big Ten coach gets to inherit what Meyer did at Ohio State. (Yes, yes, he built on it, and Kill topping Meyer's third-string-QB Playoff run for Big Ten Coach of the Year was suspect.)

I think our common ground is that the timing is strange, but I respect the decision to recognize all other options are even riskier in such a crowded market. Any other thoughts?

Matt: I want the Internet to know that my steadfast adherence to Jerry Kill Era was Overrated was 100 percent not just because of the 2014 Big Ten Coach of the Year award. Scout's honor.