Pressure on Minnesota athletic director after firing coach

Published 8:30 am Thursday, January 5, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — At the end of an hours-long meeting with Minnesota President Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle, university Board of Regents Chairman Dean Johnson excused himself from the room for a drink of water and a head-clearing walk down the hall.

Coyle was recommending to a group of board members and the school’s general counsel that football coach Tracy Claeys be fired after the program became embroiled in a standoff over the school’s suspension of 10 players in connection with a sexual assault investigation.

“With a pit in my stomach and a tear in my eye, I got up and walked down the hall for a while to think about it,” Johnson told The Associated Press on Wednesday, one day after Claeys was fired . “When you hire your administration, you give them that authority. That’s what they wanted to do and that’s what the decision was.”

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Coyle’s decision earned praise from some at the university who saw it as a sign the administration was standing up for victims of sexual assault. It also drew criticism from players, donors and former coach Jerry Kill, still a wildly popular figure among sports backers in the area, and has put an athletic director who was hired just six months ago right in the pressure cooker as he looks for a replacement.

“When you’re dealing with somebody that you like in a program that has shown some improvement, you want to say, ‘Are we sure we’re doing the right thing?’” Johnson said, referring to Claeys. “Which I did. But if you go against the people you’ve hired, they lose confidence in you as well.”