Claeys on lookout for new talent

The Gophers head coach did not renew the contracts of two offensive assistants on Sunday.

Tracy Claeys stops for a brief interview on his way off of the field for halftime at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 31, when the Wolverines defeated the Gophers 29-26.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Tracy Claeys stops for a brief interview on his way off of the field for halftime at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 31, when the Wolverines defeated the Gophers 29-26.

Mike Hendrickson

Recently appointed head football coach Tracy Claeys is already making Minnesota’s staff his own with the firing of two coaches on Sunday.
 
Claeys said Monday morning it was a difficult decision to not renew the contracts of former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and former quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Jim Zebrowski, but he wanted to run things differently on offense.
 
He said the main reason for the change is that he only wanted one person calling plays on offense. Limegrover and Zebrowski shared play calling duties.
 
“I love 75, 80 percent of what we do, so this isn’t going to be a total overhaul,” Claeys said. “The main thing is just getting back to a one-structure, one guy in charge on game day.”
 
The search of a new offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and quarterbacks coach may go until the end of January, Claeys said, though the positions could be filled before then.
 
Claeys said in an “ideal world,” he would only make two new hires. One would serve as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and the other would be the offensive line coach.
 
Adding just two members to the coaching staff would allow Minnesota to keep four coaches on defense.
 
Minnesota’s offense placed second to last in the Big Ten in points per game this season. The Gophers’ passing offense never finished higher than eighth in the Big Ten in passing yards under Limegrover and Zebrowski.
 
With Limegrover’s two coaching titles, he was in charge of the offense’s game plan while also coaching a position group with 21 players.
 
Claeys was not responsible for coaching a position group when he was the team’s defensive coordinator. 
 
“I’ve always taken the [coaches’] suggestions in mind, and we’ve worked together in that, but on game day I’ve always been the one responsible,” Claeys said. “I think that’s
the way it needs to be on offense, too.”
 
Sawvel targeted for promotion
 
Claeys is highly considering Minnesota defensive backs and special teams coach Jay Sawvel to be the team’s new defensive coordinator. 
 
Claeys filled the role before being promoted to interim head coach in the wake of Jerry Kill’s retirement.
 
The two will sit down after the current recruiting period ends in the middle of December to discuss the idea, Claeys said.
 
“Jay has been with me a long time, and he’s a hell of a coach,” Claeys said. “I want to make sure that I get a chance to talk to Jay and his family and make sure that is truly the way he wants to do it also.”
 
O’Brien added to coaching staff
 
Dan O’Brien has been hired as co-special teams coordinator, assistant defensive backs coach and assistant to the head coach, Claeys announced Monday.
 
O’Brien has been at the University of Minnesota since 2008, serving as the director of football operations until 2014, when he was promoted to senior associate athletic director.
 
“Dan will be my sounding board,” Claeys said. “I’m excited, all our coaches are, about having Dan and his family join us.”
 
O’Brien previously served as a head coach and athletics director at Concordia University in St. Paul from 1995-2002 and was the athletics director at Hamline 
University until 2007.