I still remember the night of November 26th last fall. After being spoon-fed a heaping pile of shit in an hour-long discussion in a parking lot with a University of Minnesota Board of Regents member, two friends and I escaped the shithole that is madison, wisconsin. We first conveyed the messages we got from the regent to a number of friends via twitter, we started going over the impact of events would have on the Gopher football team. The topics ranged from what our season ticket base would be if we retained Claeys (roughly zero is what we agreed upon), if any other Gopher coaches should be fired (at the time we thought both Richard Pitino and Don Lucia needed good years to stick around), and who we’d be competing against for a new coach if we fired Claeys (we guessed Purdue, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Oregon would be open in addition to Texas and LSU). Following these discussions the other passenger, a reasonably well-connected person, discussed who we’d like as the next coach. Unsurprisingly we both came to the same conclusion very quickly: Phillip John Fleck.
The conversation then covered a number of issues in regards to getting Fleck, like if he’d be a top candidate somewhere else (he would be, but he wants/needs to stay in the Midwest), how much it would costs (I believe our guesses were within a few hundred thousand of the buyout and new coaching salary amounts), and if we really thought there was a chance in hell it would happen (nope). We’re just Minnesota, and there’s going to be a bigger school out there that’ll snare him. And then we went at beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl with a defense that was made of bubble gum and bailing wire. Even if Minnesota was the best job available in the Midwest, we were going to be stuck with Claeys.
Until we weren’t.
Tracy Claeys was fired on January 3rd, and three intensely long days later Pierre Jean-Luc Fleck was introduced as the new coach of the Gophers. The first introduction that some Gopher fans, who like to keep their head burrowed in their holes, had to Fleck was a quick interaction of him getting off the Plane and talking to a few reporters wearing just a suit on a brisk Minnesota day while the rest of his party was bundled up. His energy radiated through the camera and had to be a jolt to people after a year of being lulled into an afternoon nap by the last staff. Some people wrote (incorrectly) this off to excitement at a big step up to a B1G job, but a few others were ready. By the end of the day, following his press conference, many of us had a contact high. Say what you want about Patrick Jameson Fleck, but “he’s dull” will probably never be among them. With that in mind, let’s talk about a few concerns that are out there about our new coach.
First of all, he’s a giant ball of energy that recruits and recruits and recruits. He fires off catch phrases and acronyms with the ease of a sales manager. To the average Minnesotan, this is tantamount to being a used car salesman. And I’ll admit that there have been a few times that even I’ve thought that he needed to settle the fuck down and just go do his job. But from the day before he took the job, I’ve been reminded of one thing over and over again about the way he goes about these things: I am not the intended audience. Neither are you, dearest reader. Your ass is too old too. Fleck has a way of connecting with players, and it works. He got the players he needed to play the way he wanted. His team last year went into Evanston and won against a B1G opponent, and he also went to Champaign-Urbana and beat Illinois. He took over a Western Michigan program that went 4-8, dropped them to 1-11 to fix the culture (which we could use here), and then had continual improvement to the point where he tied for the division title in his 3rd year and went 13-1 in his 4th. All the while he was regurgitating his phrases and mantras and building things his way. (And for the record, that right there is proof that he’s not the next Brewster you sports radio mouthbreathing fucks.) P.J. is here to build the program the way in the way he believes to be best, and the results in recruiting have been quite good so far.
Another point that was brought up was the authenticity, or lack thereof, of his message. We’re going to keep this one short, sweet, and to the point: he’s not a fraud. On February 9th, 2011 Colt Fleck was born, and on February 9th, 2011 Colt Fleck died. I cannot completely relate with how you fill the gap that you’d get from the loss of a child, but I had a daughter that was readmitted to the hospital a week after she was born, and for a period of time I threw myself at my work with a frenzy that I haven’t been able to match since. A number of the catch phrases come from the pain that he went through, and that’s the source of his energy.
Which brings me to my next worry: Fleck is a salesman, and his biggest goal is selling his brand. No point in trying to deny this one. If it weren’t true, we wouldn’t have oars on Gopher stuff. Problematic for oldsters, but it’s a package deal with Peter Judas Fleck. He absolutely is using Minnesota for his purposes. But you know what? That’s not the worst thing in the world by a long shot. The worst-case scenario is that he succeeds here, returns Minnesota to the lofty heights the program had when my Grandfathers were young, and leaves for a bigger job in 4 years. (The second-worst is that he falls flat on his face, but Minnesotans do appreciate some good schadenfreude so we’d win there too.) Tell me again where we lose here? Other than oars on our uniforms, it’d be a nice problem to have.
At the end of the day, everything that’s a negative about P.J. Fleck is worrisome, but should in no way turn off Gopher fans from what he wants to do for and with us. Every time I get worked up about what he’s doing, I just have to take a step back and think “Well, what would you have thought when you were 17?” and then I go to the gym and run through a brick wall and fight a few crossfitters. And then, before I collapse into a heap, I thank the almighty that we have him instead of what it looked like we had a year ago.
TL;DR: Go ahead and hate Fleck. You should get a start on it now before he makes you hate him later, fellow B1G fans.