By Timothy Mclaughlin

(Reuters) - The University of Minnesota fired its head football coach on Tuesday following an incident last month in which players staged a brief boycott in support of teammates who were suspended in connection with a sexual assault investigation.

Tracy Claeys, 48, was dismissed with pay on Tuesday, according to a statement issued by the university's athletic director, Mark Coyle, who said the Golden Gophers needed to move in a new direction and address the "culture of the program."

Players announced last month that they would not partake in team activities until 10 players were reinstated from suspensions that resulted from a university investigation into a sexual assault. Claeys supported the players in their push for more information about the investigation.

The team quickly reversed course and called off the boycott following a meeting between senior players and the university president. The school has not given a specific reason for the suspensions, citing privacy laws. No criminal charges were filed.

The team's response to the suspensions immersed players in an ongoing national debate over how sexual assault accusations are handled on U.S. college campuses. Women's rights advocates say assault has long been tolerated or not treated with appropriate seriousness.

"Moving forward, we need a leader who sets high expectations athletically, academically, and socially," Coyle said.

Most of the rest of the coaching staff was also dismissed, the statement said.

Claeys originally agreed with the suspension, according to Coyle, but then tweeted a message of support for the boycotting players, which Coyle said was "not helpful."

A longtime assistant coach at Minnesota, Claeys was named head coach in November 2015 and signed a three-year, $4.5 million contract to lead the program.

Playing without the suspended players, Minnesota defeated the Washington State Cougars 17-12 in the National Funding Holiday Bowl in San Diego last month to finish the season with a 9-4 record.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Alan Crosby)