P.J. Fleck hasn’t coached a single game at Minnesota, but already he’s taken the Gophers to new heights. Minnesota’s 2018 recruiting class, with 10 oral commitments, is ranked tenth in the country.
“We want to create a lot of energy and excitement,” Fleck said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think a lot of people take my energy and excitement for promise, especially right away. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to continue to build this program, build our depth, and everything starts in recruiting. I think any coach will tell you that. I think any athletic director will tell you that, that it starts in recruiting. But not only recruiting high school student-athletes; it’s recruiting your players within the program, especially when you take over, to think that the University of Minnesota is an elite football program. We haven’t won a Big Ten championship in over 60 years. We haven’t won a national championship in over 70 years. But I think with the right formula and the right energy and the right recruiting structure and the right program and the right culture, you can do that.”
Fleck’s unflinchingly upbeat attitude might annoy some people, but it’s a key selling point for many others – and make no mistake: Fleck will need to be positive. Minnesota went 9-4 last year; it was the Gophers’ second nine-win season since 1905.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re ourselves,” Fleck said. “We don’t sell anything. One thing about us is I think you either really, really like me and like our staff, like our energy, like our positivity, like our excitement – or you don’t. The great thing about us we’re not one of those staffs you have to see 15 times to figure out, ‘Well, I just don’t know about those people. We’re kind of wishy-washy.’ That’s not us. We are who we are. We’re not for everybody, but we are for a lot, and we are for many. The biggest thing for us is we’re just us. I said the same thing at Western Michigan when we were having recruiting success. We are just us.”
Fleck, 36, pulled Western Michigan from the depths in just four seasons. He went 1-11 in 2013 but 13-1 in 2016.
“I couldn’t tell you if a kid was three, four, five stars,” Fleck said. “I could not tell you that. We want the howl of a young man. We want the heart. We want the unconquerable will. We want the spirit. We want the soul. We want the drive. That all four areas of his life – academically, athletically, socially and spiritually – are important to him. If you can find young people that their life – not just football, but their life – is incredibly important to them, I think you can have success as a football program.”
Fleck did cause a bit of controversy earlier this month, saying on CBS Sports Radio’s The Jim Rome Show that he took a “major pay cut” to coach at Minnesota – even though his salary went from roughly $820,000 to $3.5 million.
“Well, I was just making a statement,” Fleck said. “The whole thing was talking about our children, that we want to teach them a lesson: Chase your dreams; don’t chase the money. You never can win when you talk about money when you’re a head football coach because we make too much money. My point was that there were two contracts on the table. I wasn’t talking about what I was making at the time. I was talking about there was something on the table at Western Michigan; there was something on the table at the University of Minnesota. That’s all I was saying. It wasn’t a disrespect to Western Michigan University; it wasn’t a disrespect to the University of Minnesota. The whole thing we were talking about was lessons I was teaching my children, my own four kids. That’s what came out.
“It probably came out in a way that, if I would have said it again, I probably wouldn’t have said it that particular way,” Fleck continued. “But in my mind, I knew what was on the table. Nobody else did. That was the point. I knew what was on the table. But this wasn’t about money. This was about chasing a dream of mine to coach in the Big Ten and to coach at a place that was very similar to Western Michigan when we took over to turn it into something that maybe it’s always dreamed of becoming – or hasn’t become that in the last 60 years or 70 years. That was why I was so inspired to take that job, and that was the point of the message. One person took that, pulled it out, tweeted it all over the place, and the next thing you know, everybody wants to talk about P.J. Fleck talking about money. It was actually the complete opposite. It was the passion and the opportunity to come here, but it was a comparison of two contracts on the table in terms of what was being offered.”