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Minnesota Gophers’ slow play of offensive coordinator hire could pay big dividends

Coaches come and go, it is a reality of the college football world — but it is a reality that is just hitting a program and a coaching staff that has known nothing but stability since 2011.

Of course, we’re talking about the Minnesota Gophers, who hired defensive coordinator turned interim head coach — Tracy Claeys — as their replacement for Jerry Kill. It was the right move, but it was just the first on a staff that hadn’t seen a lot of change for the Gophers era, let alone most of Kill’s career as a head coach.

With Claeys firmly in control, he surprised a lot of people by letting go of long-time offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski.

Since that time though, it has been crickets and more crickets on the hire front. Not many names have leaked out, let alone a flurry of interviews being set up. In a season with 30-plus head coaching changes, offensive coordinators were coming and going like quarterbacks from FCS programs to Oregon.

Minnesota was nowhere in the mix in the past few weeks, yet it could be to the Gophers’ advantage. How so?

First off, let’s get one thing straight — Minnesota wasn’t going to be out there splashing the cash and hiring a sexy name. That’s not what Claeys was thinking or wanting to do in making this decision.

It also wasn’t in the cards because the Gophers administration wasn’t about to get in the crazy escalation of assistant coaches salaries that have happened.

Lastly, Claeys’ plans from the beginning was to do the one thing most head coaches weren’t going to do in their searches — turn over every stone to find the right fit for himself and his vision.

What exactly is that vision? He laid that out in announcing the firing of Limegrover and Zebrowski, per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“Had it been structured with one guy in charge and doing all that, I could’ve lived with it, I really could’ve,” Claeys said. “That was structured where Coach [Kill] was the buffer in between the two play callers. [Kill] was on the offensive side of the ball all the time. I don’t want to be on the offensive side of the ball all the time.”

Claeys also had a strong worry about the double duty of offensive line coach and play calling as the offensive coordinator.

“I think it’s too hard to be the offensive coordinator and the coach of the offensive line,” Claeys aid. “I think the offensive line coach should be in the trenches with those guys during the game. He should worry about helping them be successful and not worry about calling the plays.”

While everyone and their brother in the college football coaching circus has gone crazy in trying to one-up the latest hire, Minnesota is the lone exception to that rule, likely not having its coach in place until January.

Could that mean dipping in to the NFL coaching pool? Maybe, but it could also mean giving his team and coaching staff in place the time to focus on the bowl game and then turn attention elsewhere.

As with most decisions, some worry what this would do to recruiting. The answer is simple — absolutely nothing.

Claeys knows exactly what he wants his offense to look like and when talking to recruits that is almost as important as the actual person doing the play calling. It also means most recruits on the offensive side of the ball are not going to bail, or that his team is going to need to overhaul its entire philosophy and start from scratch with the type of player needed to make a new system work.

That’s born out so far on the recruiting trail, where few committed players have bolted away from the program.

While we don’t know the names or really anything, that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing. In fact, in an age of everyone rushing to get out a name on Twitter before anyone else, a coaching search done under the radar is pretty refreshing.

So, while other schools jump to one-up each other, the Gophers are sitting back and looking to get the right guy instead of the sexy one. Who knows, the right guy could actually end up being the sexy one as well.

Just don’t expect Claeys or the program to care much about what the outside world thinks of his hiring process.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball


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