A little more than a year ago, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck might have been the hottest name in college football coaching circles.
After all, Mr. Row The Boat had guided the previously downtrodden Gophers to an 11-2 season that included a stunning upset of Penn State and a season-ending win against No. 9 Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
Now Fleck is among the names that sources tell FootballScoop has been identified and vetted by Parker Executive Search for the opening at the University of Tennessee.
Multiple college football sources confirmed to FootballScoop Saturday that Fleck, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and SMU head coach Sonny Dykes are among those coaches being vetted for the Tennessee job. At least one of those coaches and his agent have reached out to gauge interest of assistant coaches around the country in a potential opportunity to join a staff on Rocky Top.
In college football’s last full season, Fleck was a wanted man; Minnesota officials rewarded Fleck even before season’s end. By November 2019, Fleck had agreed to a contract extension to remain with the Gophers. It included more money for Fleck; it gave Minnesota reasonable protection via prodigious, $10 million buyout.
Guess what? Fleck’s buyout figure dropped shortly after the Big Ten’s truncated 2020 season ended by more than 50 percent. That previous $10 million tag dropped to $4.5 million when the calendar turned to 2021.
And Fleck, while he has never been a play-caller, has worked extensively on the offensive side of the ball – specifically as a wide receivers coach, the position he played at Northern Illinois that led to a brief NFL stint with the San Francisco 49ers.
Though Fleck never has remained in one program longer than four years, Fleck has demonstrably shown an ability to rebuild programs. Fleck’s 2016 squad at Western Michigan posted an undefeated, 12-0 regular season and lost by just eight points to Wisconsin.
Dykes won the Western Athletic Conference’s Coach of the Year award in 2011 at Louisiana Tech; stepped into a very challenging situation at Cal and put the program back on its feet (winning 8 games in 2015), his teams at SMU the past two seasons have won a combined 17 games and earned back-to-back bids to the Boca Raton Bowl.
Elliott, as noted Friday on FootballScoop, has been an integral part of Clemson’s success Elliott joined the coaching staff at his alma mater in 2011. He’s been the Tigers’ co-offensive coordinator or offensive coordinator for the past six seasons, including serving as Clemson’s sole play-caller throughout the 2020 season until COVID-19 protocols forced Elliott to miss the College Football Playoffs semifinal against Ohio State. Danny White tried to hire Elliott at UCF when Scott Frost left for Nebraska sources told FootballScoop at the time.
Danny White knows what he wants. He’s seeking to confirm what he thinks through interviews with some of the best football coaches in the country.
Tennessee is seeking to move relatively quickly; and White has been empowered to act decisively we are told. We’ll keep you posted as this one progresses.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news.