By Chris Chesky and Jason Olson
Sun Current Newspapers
Current and former athletes from Cooper High School and Eden Prairie High School have vocalized their opinions after University of Minnesota head football coach Tracy Claeys was fired Jan. 3.
The Golden Gophers’ football program has been in the spotlight since Dec. 13, when University of Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle suspended 10 players in connection with an alleged sexual assault Sept. 2. The players responded with a two-day boycott of all football activities, and threatened to sit out the National Funding Holiday Bowl if the players’ suspensions were not overturned.
Claeys later tweeted, “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!” From that point on, Claeys’ job security was questioned.
Less than a week after Claeys and the Golden Gophers won the National Funding Holiday Bowl trophy with a 17-12 win over Washington State Dec. 27, it was announced that Claeys was fired as the Golden Gophers’ head coach.
It did not take long for the players to publicly respond.
Former Cooper standout Phillip Howard tweeted, “Smh just wow!” roughly 10 minutes after the news of Claeys’ firing was announced.
Howard went on to retweet multiple teammates’ opinions on the firing of their head coach, before tweeting, “Cause he stuck with his players ? Y’all are a joke smh!” roughly 10 minutes after his first tweet.
Current Cooper High School student and University of Minnesota-commit Eric Abojei expressed his disappointment in Claeys’ firing.
“I was extremely excited to be coached under him this year,” Abojei said. “God bless him.”
Abojei did not add any further comments.
Former Eden Prairie football standout and current Gopher Carter Coughlin tweeted, “How can someone makes such an idiotic decision…” roughly 20 minutes following the announcement of Claeys’ firing.
Coughlin followed up his first statement by tweeting, “I’ve always been really mindful about what I tweet but this is [expletive].”
Coughlin also tweeted, “Both sides of the story need to be heard,” Jan. 4, while also writing a lengthy statement.
“A lot of people tweet at me ‘think about if this was your sister or your daughter’ but there’s always two sides to a story,” Coughlin wrote on Twitter. “So all you saying that, imagine if you got a call from your son or brother saying that he has been suspended for an entire football season for sexual assault.
“Your son is out of state and is only a 19 year old kid. He explains that he doesn’t understand why because on the night under question, he spent FaceTiming his girlfriend for a few hours and then was long asleep before any of the accused scandals took place.
“He never set foot anywhere near that apartment room,” Coughlin continued. “He goes on to explain that his name was brought up because the alleged victim looked through a list of players provided by the EOAA and pointed to his picture and said ‘ya he was there.’ There’s not a dad in the world that wouldn’t fight for his son saying he deserves to tell his story to an unbiased party as well as have it thoroughly investigated.
“He deserves that right before his name is slandered all over media. That is just one instance of what happened to one of our teammates. We boycotted because our brothers didn’t get their due process to defend themselves before the premature punishment.
“That’s what Coach Claeys was supporting,” Coughlin added. “He’s a father figure to us all and he was just a dad fighting for his kids. No one especially not me in any way condones or supports sexual assault… we just support the constitutional idea of ‘innocent until PROVEN guilty.’
“No one, not me, nor anyone on twitter has the right to judge whether my teammates are guilty or not, that should be left up to people who are qualified to investigate BOTH sides of the story.”
Eden Prairie head football coach Mike Grant said he is proud of how Coughlin and fellow former Eagle Blake Cashman have represented the Eden Prairie football community at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m proud of those guys going over there and representing our community and program well,” Grant said. “They’re both great kids and now young men and we’re even more proud of them as people as we are by their play on the field.”