When a coach from the Mid-American Conference is hired by a B1G team, it doesn’t often come with much excitement.
There’s always this great unknown of how that coach will fare against B1G competition. Can those Midwest recruiting ties help sign blue-chip recruits? Was that last season in the MAC a sign of a coach on the rise or was it just a one-year wonder?
Eventually, those questions get answered. Still, there aren’t usually sky-high expectations that follow a MAC coach into the B1G.
P.J. Fleck was the exception to that rule.
Outside of Tom Herman, there might not have been a more coveted up-and-coming coach on the move than Fleck. Go figure that Fleck’s hype was built at a MAC school. Like the five other head coaches that left the MAC for the B1G in the last 20 years, Fleck cashed in on a big final season at Western Michigan.
We don’t know what Fleck’s first season in the B1G will look like. We definitely don’t know what his final season in the B1G will look like.
We do know that if Fleck has it his way, he’ll have a much better ending than the previous MAC-to-B1G coaches.
This might seem like a strange connection, but let me preface this by mentioning that all five MAC-to-B1G coaches were in separate situations. None of their paths were related to one another. Each had their own reasons why it ultimately didn’t end well at their B1G school.
Having said that, I couldn’t help but notice something when I was trying to figure out how MAC coaches fared after joining the B1G. All five MAC coaches that came to the B1G had bizarre endings.
OK, you could argue that Darrell Hazell didn’t have a bizarre ending at Purdue. His teams were just historically awful and he was fired in the middle of his fourth season.
But take a look at the previous MAC-to-B1G coaches in the last 20 years:
|MAC-TO-B1G||DARRELL HAZELL||TIM BECKMAN||TERRY HOEPNNER||JERRY KILL||RANDY WALKER|
|MAC school||Kent State||Toledo||Miami (OH)||Northern Illinois||Miami (OH)|
|MAC record (conf.)||16-10 (12-4)||21-16 (17-7)||48-25 (37-11)||23-16 (18-6)||59-36-5 (46-24-3)|
|B1G record (conf.)||9-33 (3-24)||12-24 (4-20)||9-14 (4-12)||29-29 (14-21)||37-45 (24-32)|
|Circumstances of B1G departure||Fired in Year 4||Fired before Year 4||Died before Year 3||Retired in middle of Year 5||Died before Year 8|
There’s a common thread among all of those coaches, and no, it isn’t that none had winning records in the B1G. All of them went to programs historically in the bottom half of the conference, so it’s hard to put a ton of stock into that.
It was the way in which they all left. One guy didn’t make it to Year 4 because of a player mistreatment scandal (Beckman). Another guy retired in the middle of his fifth season because of his battle with epilepsy (Kill). And oddly enough, the two former Miami (OH) coaches died in the offseason while they were still at their respective B1G schools.
Does that mean Fleck is destined to have an unconventionally ending to his time at Minnesota? Of course not. He’s obviously not cursed because of that.
But that’s a weird track record, to say the least.
Not one of those MAC coaches came to the B1G, had four good seasons and then left for an even better job. That’s what skeptics believe Fleck could do. And if he did, he’d only be doing so because he led Minnesota to new heights.
The good news is that one could argue all three MAC-to-B1G coaches that stopped coaching for health-related reasons succeeded at their respective schools. They turned around struggling programs, and at the time of their departure, they left it in better standing than when they got there.
Fleck is also just 36. Compare that to the ages of Walker (44), Beckman (46), Hazell (48), Kill (49) and Hoeppner (57) when they were hired. That’s not to say he’s immune from health scares, but youth is on Fleck’s side.
Where Fleck’s youthful energy matters more is being able to handle the year-round rigors that come with being a Power Five coach in this era of college football. It’s safe to say his arrival brought more hype than any of his fellow MAC-to-B1G coaches, mainly because of his off-the-charts enthusiasm and New Year’s Six appearance.
Fleck’s time at Minnesota could also have an impact on future B1G coaching hires. If the coveted up-and-coming coach who just had a historic season at Western Michigan can’t succeed at Minnesota, will B1G teams stop hiring MAC coaches? That question won’t be answered for years.
For now, Fleck is just focused on winning at his first Power Five job. Going out on his own terms is the last thing on his mind.
He’s got a lot of rowing to do before that.