Some of you might think I am being a bit reactionary to Wisconsin losing to Illinois while the Golden Gophers have squeaked their way to a 7-0 record against a terrible schedule. Maybe you think I am over thinking things. There is a legit possibility that Minnesota could lose a close contest against Penn State at home, but win the West. Then, it’s all about the B1G Championship Game. Certainly a motivator like P.J. Fleck could possibly convince Minnesota to win one against an overrated Ohio State team (you hope) and squeak into the playoffs that way. Crazy talk, but not so crazy.
It’s not about that. It’s about my knowledge of P.J. Fleck.
While I “write” for Off Tackle Empire, I also write for Hustle Belt, the premier Mid-American site. I had the glory of seeing P.J. Fleck first hand in 2016 when he was the head coach of the Western Michigan Broncos. This guy is something else, and this Minnesota season reminds me of that glorious time. Let’s recap the 2016 Bronco’s season, shall we.
They started off with a couple close wins (against Big Ten teams, no less), gained momentum and started blowing teams off the field. They ran the table, won the MAC, and got a New Year’s Six bowl invite, the equivalent of a G5 team winning a national title. Maybe even more coveted. Sure they lost to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, but that doesn’t diminish just how impressive that season was.
What happened next was P.J. Fleck left to join Minnesota. Sure, there were hurt feelings on the Western Michigan side. There were calls of lack of loyalty, and those were escalated when Fleck started poaching his own recruits, and even a graduate transfer or two. As an outside observer, I realize now that he was actually showing loyalty to people. And that is where Fleck is different.
On the outside, it’s easy to see Fleck as a different incarnation of a cliche’ coach that can get his kids to run through a brick wall. A modern day Lou Holtz. Since we are talking about Notre Dame, maybe Fleck can convince this team to “win one for the Flecker” and knock off the Mighty Nittany Lions.
P.J. is deeper than that.
This guy went through the most horrifying thing any human being can endure, and buried a child. I can’t imagine. I don’t want to imagine. He turned that into “Row the Boat”. That motto is not about hyping a team up for one moment in time where they steal a big win, it is about grinding every day until the train starts rolling. His teams build the brick wall, then knock it down, and then build it again. He is a train that keeps chugging along. If a wall gets in the way, sometimes you knock it down, sometimes it knocks you down. You just keep building the track.
I can imagine a world where the train arrived this season. However, I think we are a year or two too soon. The schedule was favorable and the stars aligned. There is a chance it comes crashing down this week, and likely next week.
However, this P.J. Fleck thing is not going away. Minnesota is going to make some noise.