P.J. Fleck will be the next head coach at Minnesota, sources tell FootballScoop.
— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) January 6, 2017
Pete Thamel reported early this morning that Fleck was “expected” to become the new head coach of the Gopher program, and local reports out of Minnesota have echoed the same sentiment.
Still only 36, Fleck is seen as a master recruiter, motivator and brander, riding his “Row the Boat” mantra to take an average MAC program to a national darling — the Broncos hosted College GameDay this season — behind his relentless program-building efforts and 1,000-watt positivity.
Fleck was the architect of college football’s greatest rise during his four years in Kalamazoo. The Broncos booked a 1-11 mark in Fleck’s 2013 debut, immediately improved to 8-5 in 2014 and went 8-5 again in ’15 before busting through for the program’s first undefeated regular season, its first MAC Championship Game win and its first major bowl appearance this fall. Western Michigan won their first 13 games in 2016, rising as high as No. 14 in the College Football Playoff poll, before falling 24-16 to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl on Monday.
A former Northern Illinois and NFL wide receiver, Fleck built his career as a graduate assistant and wide receivers coach in Big Ten country. After jumping into coaching as a graduate assistant under Jim Tressel on Ohio State’s 2006 Big Ten champion squad, Fleck’s first full-time coaching position came as wide receivers coach at his alma mater in 2007-09, where he worked with former Minnesota head coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys. Fleck later moved on to coach wide receivers under Greg Schiano at Rutgers (2009-11) and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 before accepting the Western Michigan job in 2013.
At Minnesota, Fleck will take over a Minnesota program that completed a better-than-expected 9-4 season with a Holiday Bowl victory that nevertheless is mired in a state of major turmoil. New AD Mark Coyle fired head coach Claeys, a move that was criticized by current players and strongly denounced by Kill, after players threatened to boycott the Holiday Bowl as protest for the university’s Title IX investigation into an alleged sexual assault that resulted in 10 players being suspended.
Nevertheless, Minnesota is a program with a chance to take off under Fleck. Playing in a new outdoor stadium and with a new football facility on the way, the Gophers have the nation’s No. 16 metropolitan area to themselves and play in a division that, aside from Paul Bunyan’s Axe rival Wisconsin, is wide open from year-to-year.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.