BLACKSBURG – Head coach Justin Fuente confirmed on Wednesday that Tracy Claeys has informed him of his intention to retire. Virginia Tech marked the final stop of Claeys’ career in college football as he coached the Hokies’ linebackers in 2020 after joining the program in December 2019. Fuente indicated an announcement regarding Tech’s new linebackers coach would be forthcoming soon.
“On behalf of our entire football program, I want to thank Tracy Claeys for his contributions to our team,” Fuente said. “Even though he was only with us for a short time, Tracy made a lasting impact on our players and coaches. Tracy is not only an outstanding football coach, but he’s also one of the finest people I’ve had the pleasure of working with in this profession. I appreciated the way he helped mentor members of our staff, as well as the manner in which he conveyed his knowledge of the game to our players. We all wish Tracy the very best going forward.”
“I’m very grateful that to have coached with Coach Fuente and his staff at a place like Virginia Tech,” Claeys said. “Certainly 2020 presented many challenges to all of us, but I couldn’t have asked for a better group of individuals to work with, especially my group of linebackers and the coaches in our defensive room. I’m going to miss coaching, but I’ll always have fond memories of my time in Blacksburg and will continue to value the many relationships I developed here. As I told Coach Fuente, while the time is right for me to step away from coaching, I’ll forever have a fond place in my heart for Virginia Tech.”
Claeys posted an 11-8 record with back-to-back bowl victories as head coach at Minnesota after taking over the program in November 2015. The Clay Center, Kansas native originally joined the Minnesota staff as defensive coordinator in 2011. He most recently served as defensive coordinator at Washington State. Prior to his stint at Minnesota, Claeys spent three seasons at Northern Illinois (2008-10), seven years at Southern Illinois (2001-07) and two campaigns at Emporia State (1999-2000), serving as defensive coordinator for all three schools. Claeys was a two-time finalist for the Broyles Award presented annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
In his one full season as Minnesota’s 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 taking over the head coaching duties for the second half of the season. That stint as head coach 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 was the architect of a 2018 Washington State defense that led the Pac-12 Conference in sacks (38.0) and ranked second in tackles for loss (88.0). Under his direction, the Cougars tied for second in the conference in takeaways (23) and finished fourth in total defense (359.2 ypg). WSU also posted a shutout of San Jose State and saw a Pac-12 best 15 players record a sack. Four Cougars earned All-Pac-12 honors led by defensive lineman Logan Tago who earned second-team honors for the first time in his career.
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 began his coaching career at Santa Fe Trail High School in 1994. He joined Jerry Kill in 1995 at Saginaw Valley State, where he coached the defensive line. Claeys became defensive coordinator at Emporia State in 1999 before taking over those same duties 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.