To say Wednesday morning’s announcement of the health-induced retirement of Jerry Kill was a gut-punch to the Minnesota Gophers would be an understatement. For the most part, his program was the shinning light in an era of darkness within the University of Minnesota athletic department.
A sexual harassment scandal forced former athletic director Norwood Teague to resign in disgrace in August. Further investigation found plenty of areas to be corrected within the hierarchy of the Gophers athletic department, and have had some calling for the head of university president Eric Kaler.
In the midst of all of that, there is a 41-year-old first-time major college athletic director named Beth Goetz. So far she is still just the interim AD, but to say she may have the most important job in the Big Ten right now is an understatement.
There are a ton of moving parts going on for the Gophers athletic department, with a new athlete’s village to push over the finish line and a football facility to see through the construction phase. Oh, and there is the whole guiding the staff through a nasty scandal and implementing safe guards so things like what happened with Teague aren’t allowed to happen again.
Now Goetz can add finding a new head coach for the flagship program and the one that has a shiny new stadium to fill and a brand new practice facility to justify.
Things have gone from awful to steady with Jerry Kill at the helm of the Gophers football program, but that is all gone now. Interim head coach Tracy Claeys doesn’t have the fallback of knowing Kill is going to eventually come back. He can no longer just be the defensive coordinator who also pops in from time to time on the offensive side of things.
Claeys, if he wants the head coaching job on a permanent basis, must find a way to right the ship of a team currently in a ton of its own turmoil without the likes of a Kill retirement announcement.
Minnesota’s defense is dealing with a rash of major injuries that have caused it to fall apart for the majority of the season, and that is Claeys’ forte. There’s also a clearly flat-lining offense with a quarterback who has clearly demonstrated he can’t be the only piece to push them to victory.
The Gophers offense rank dead last in the Big Ten in scoring offense (20.4) ninth in rushing offense (156.7), 11th in passing offense (194.3) and 11th in total offense (351.0).
Combine the two and you have a team that is limping towards the finish line, rather than building to a crescendo for the end of the regular season.
No doubt that Goetz will have a keen eye on how Claeys tackles the problems going on within this program in a year of clear rebuilding, but will either have the decision to stay in their own hands?
It’s been nearly three months and very little has been said about the search for a permanent athletic director. Now the question becomes whether that interim tag gets taken off of Goetz’s title given she will likely be leading the charge for the second-most important position behind her own.
Minnesota’s administration has to get serious, and get serious fast as to what direction it wants to go in for its athletic department. These two hires, whomever they are, are going to affect the course of a department that has put itself in the fight for the best of the best in college athletes.
Will this school get the best of the best in as athletic director and football head coach, or will it be caught in paralysis by analysis and fail to make a decision fast enough to make it a true player in the college coaching search?