Washington State University Head Football Coach Mike Leach announced Monday that Tracy Claeys has been named WSU’s defensive coordinator.
“Tracy comes highly recommended as a tremendous teacher, strategist, and a player’s coach with an impressive body of work that has withstood the test of time,” said Leach. “We are fortunate to have him at Washington State University.”
Claeys, 49, most recently served as the head coach at the University of Minnesota, where he posted an 11-8 record with back-to-back bowl victories after taking over the program Nov. 11, 2015 when he succeeded Jerry Kill, who resigned due to health reasons. Claeys had been a part of the Minnesota coaching staff since 2011, where he served as defensive coordinator before adding the title of associate head coach prior to the 2014 season. He also reunites with Cougar defensive line coach Jeff Phelps, who coached alongside Claeys at Minnesota from 2011-16.
“I would like to thank Coach Leach and Washington State University for the opportunity to coach the Cougs!” said Claeys. “I am looking forward to getting to Pullman, working with a great staff and getting to know the players.”
In 2016, his first full season as head coach, Claeys guided the Gophers to a 9-4 record, a 5-4 mark in Big Ten play and a victory over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. Minnesota’s nine wins were the most it had earned since winning 10 games in 2003 and were the second most since 1905 when the Gophers also won 10 games.
Minnesota’s defense allowed an average of 22.1 points in 2016, which was the lowest since it allowed 21.9 in 2003. In 2011, when Claeys was in his first year as defensive coordinator, Minnesota allowed 31.7 points, but since then the most it has allowed in a season is 24.2 points. At the conclusion of the 2016 season, the Gophers had held 36 of their last 48 opponents below their scoring average. In 23 of those games, Minnesota held its opposition to eight or more points below their season average and in nine games, the Gophers held their opponents to 14 or more points below their season average.
During the 2015 season, Claeys guided Minnesota to a 2-4 record after replacing Kill the second half of the season. That included a 21-14 win over Central Michigan in the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl. That season the Gophers finished 24th in total defense and 11th nationally in pass defense.
Claeys has coached four First Team All-Big Ten defensive selections - Briean Boddy-Calhoun (2014), Damien Wilson (2014), Ra'Shede Hageman (2013) and Brock Vereen (2013) - at Minnesota in five years. In contrast, Minnesota had five First Team All-Big Ten defensive selections from 2000-10.
Claeys-coached players are also catching the attention of NFL teams at an increasing rate. Minnesota has had six defensive players taken in the NFL Draft in the last three years in Eric Murray (2016, Kansas City Chiefs), De'Vondre Campbell (2016, Atlanta Falcons), Damien Wilson (2015, Dallas Cowboys), Cedric Thompson (2015, Miami Dolphins), Ra'Shede Hageman (2014, Atlanta Falcons) and Brock Vereen (2014, Chicago Bears). Minnesota had six total defensive players drafted from 2000-13.
Prior to Minnesota, Claeys spent three seasons at Northern Illinois and seven years at Southern Illinois, all as the defensive coordinator. In 2008, his first season at Northern Illinois, Claeys and the defensive staff engineered one of the biggest turnarounds in the country, as the Huskies led the MAC in pass defense, scoring defense and total defense. The Huskies finished in the top 20 nationally in three categories – fifth in pass defense, 14th in scoring defense and 17th in total defense.
Claeys' defense topped the MAC and ranked 30th in the country in total defense the following year. The Huskies were also among the top 30 FBS teams in the country in scoring defense that season.
In 2010, Claeys led a Northern Illinois defensive unit that was ranked No. 14 in the nation and No. 1 in the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 19 points per game. The Huskies were also No. 32 in the nation in pass efficiency defense, No. 27 in total defense and No. 27 in rushing defense in Claeys' final season.
In his last five years at Southern Illinois, Claeys’ defenses allowed an average of 18.5 points while holding opponents to 14 points or less 21 times, which included five shutouts. In 2007, Southern Illinois reached the FCS national semifinal and its defense ranked as the 10th-best FCS scoring defense in the country and the second-best scoring defense at SIU since 1983. They also intercepted 21 passes to rank fourth in the nation.
In 2004, Southern Illinois led the country in scoring defense, allowing just 13.2 points per game. The Salukis gave up only 101.7 yards per game on the ground while snagging 17 interceptions.
Claeys started his coaching career at Santa Fe Trail High School in 1994. He joined Kill in 1995 at Saginaw Valley State, where he coached the defensive line. Claeys became Kill's defensive coordinator at Emporia State in 1999. He remained in that capacity when Kill took over at Southern Illinois in 2001 and Northern Illinois in 2008.
Claeys, who attended both Kansas and Kansas State, graduated with a degree in Mathematics Education in 1994 from Kansas State. He did not play collegiate football.
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