The last month, Minnesota looked clueless. From the top down, it didn’t look like the Gophers knew what they were doing.
An administration misinformed players about the process of a serious sexual assault investigation. Players defended their teammates and made a strong stance without having full knowledge of the university’s findings. A coach essentially lost his job over less than 140 characters. Recruits, players and alumni sounded off on said firing.
No matter what side of the argument you fell on, you could probably agree on one thing. It was a mess. It was Minnesota administration’s job to clean up that mess by hiring a top-notch football coach.
On Friday, the Gophers did that by hiring P.J. Fleck. They brought the biggest personality possible to usher in a new era of Minnesota football.
No longer will the talk about Minnesota be centered on incompetency. Contrary to the last month in the Twin Cities, the Gophers finally showed they knew what they were doing.
If you haven’t been paying attention to college football in 2016, it’s easy to be a bit baffled by the Fleck hype. After all, MAC coaches come to the B1G all the time. The Darrell Hazells and Tim Beckmans of the world trained us to believe they’re nothing to get excited about.
Nothing about Fleck screamed “MAC.” And despite his roots, nothing about Fleck screams “Midwest.”
The 36-year-old coach is as big of a high-energy guy as there is in college football. A talented recruiter and master motivator, Fleck is the train that never stops chugging along. Correction: Fleck is the boat* that never stops rowing. His “Row the Boat” mantra took the college football world by storm in 2016.
When you get off to a 13-0 start, people notice. College GameDay was so desperate to get Fleck on camera that the ESPN pregame show went to Kalamazoo in late November for a game in which WMU was a three-touchdown favorite:
More important than flash, Fleck has all sorts of substance. While the MAC had a down couple years, Fleck’s impressive showings against his future division foes were what stood out.
In 2015, Fleck’s Broncos gave Michigan State and Ohio State — two top-six teams — a better fight than most B1G teams. This year, they were the unofficial B1G West champs in September. WMU went to Northwestern and won and followed that with a drubbing of Illinois in Champaign. Days ago, Fleck’s squad was within eight points of knocking off No. 8 Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.
That was done with WMU resources. Fleck did all of that damage in the B1G’s geographical footprint.
What will he do with B1G resources? Fleck will have brand-new facilities to work with and if his $3.5 million-per-year deal was any indication, he’ll have plenty of money to assemble a quality staff. That’s a dangerous combination for B1G West teams that haven’t had to worry about the Gophers dominating the division.
Now, B1G West coaches will have to make a better sales pitch than this guy:
It’s ironic that everything that happened in Minnesota the last month seemed like awful timing. The boycott came one month before National Signing Day. It came weeks before the team’s bowl game. It came in the middle of Tracy Claeys’ contract extension negotiations.
But the timing of all of it worked out perfectly in the end. Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle wanted his own guy. Claeys’ tweet gave him an excuse to make that happen.
Fleck had to capitalize on his 13-1 season. The problem was that the market didn’t work for him. He turned down Cincinnati, Houston and Purdue because they were too small for him. He wasn’t considered for LSU, Oregon or Texas because they were too big for him. Minnesota was finally the middle ground that made sense.
We don’t know how Minnesota’s brass pitched the program to him. We know that the two sides met in Chicago and Fleck didn’t say “yes” on the spot. Why would he? Fleck had all the leverage in this situation and Minnesota knew it.
Maybe Les Miles flying into the Twin Cities served as a message that the Gophers were prepared to make a big splash, with or without Fleck. Now Fleck gets to be that splash.
Minnesota got a household name who oozes positivity. Even better, the Gophers got their guy three days after their controversial firing of Claeys. They didn’t even give recruits or current players the weekend to visit another campus. It had to be done this way.
The Gophers finally righted the ship. They got the guy who has no problem doing just that.