By Larry Fitzgerald
September 19, 2017
Little did I know about the name P.J. Fleck until recently. My time might be drawing to an end.
Back in 1992, while doing talk radio on KFAN, the Gophers’ flagship station, I told my broadcast partner Eric Nelson and our listening audience that things were so bad here in the culture of the program at Minnesota that the football program would not go to the Rose Bowl in my lifetime. Here it is 2017 and the team has not won a Big Ten title since 1967 and has not been to the Rose Bowl since 1961.
Imagine three Gopher head football coaches in three years. That sounds as if the program is drifting away in trouble, right? Last year’s sexual harassment issues led to big change for both players and coaches. P.J. Fleck is the new big man on campus; he was hired shortly after Tracy Claeys was fired after going 9-4 and winning back-to-back Bowl games.
Not many Gopher head football coaches over the last 50 years can say that. Fleck was hired by Mark Coyle, the new Minnesota athletic director. “When I was athletic director at Syracuse,” said Coyle, “that’s when I first had a coaching search, and that’s when his name came up. I talked to a couple of coaches, and his name kept coming up.
“When I came to Minnesota a year later,” Coyle continued, “I saw what he did at Western Michigan University, starting 1-11 and then the next year going 13-1. That was awesome, but what really impressed me was [that] academically that team went from a 2.5 to a 3.0.
“I knew that he would take care of things on the field and off the field academically. We had a sense of urgency, so we thought he would be good for our program.”
It is early, but after three weeks the Gophers under Fleck are 3-0, winning 17-7 over Buffalo. At Oregon State the next week the Gophers dominated 48-14. And last Saturday I witnessed at TCF a complete domination of Middle Tennessee 34-3.
Some have been critical of Fleck and his methods. He is very confident when he talks. It’s about faith a lot and about the culture of a program. And “rowing the boat.”
Proof has been in the fast start and what the players are saying, and more importantly what they are doing and the changes. Not many head coaches across this country have won 16 of their last 17 games. P.J. Fleck talks the talk.
His style is different. He came on campus and right away threw away some prized football trophies. That has upset some alumni players. Not everyone is buying what he’s selling, but so far he’s “rowing the boat.”
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.