It was almost a perfect answer. Almost.
When asked about his future near the end of his appearance on WCCO Radio last Sunday morning, University of Minnesota Head Football Coach P.J. Fleck came within two words of giving the perfect response.
“I know Heather and I absolutely love it here, and we are very grateful to our fans, very grateful to our administration and very grateful for our community that have accepted us with open arms,” said Fleck. “We got a lot of things to finish here this year.”
Did you catch it?
About a month ago I opined in this same space that the University needed to do whatever it takes to retain Fleck. Now I fear that P.J. is, in the words of ‘The Eagles,’ the band, not the football team, “Already Gone.”
No matter what happens to the Gophers against undefeated Penn State University on Nov. 9, or the rest of this season, Fleck, who is under contract to the University of Minnesota for four more years after this season, and has already received rollover extensions following the 2017 and 2018 seasons, is going to be on the short list of several schools, who are almost certain to offer him more to leave than Minnesota is prepared to offer him to stay. So, it has to be about more than just football.
Such schools rumored to be in the market for a new head football coach include traditional football powers like Florida State, Tennessee, UCLA, USC and potentially, based on how they finish, Notre Dame.
Now, if it’s just about football, I’d say the Gophers were done. But, I think P.J. and his wife Heather think bigger than that. P.J. Fleck is a brand, and recognizing that, the way that P.J. and Heather already have, is both the key to retaining Fleck and the biggest threat to losing him.
While much attention has been paid to the Gophers 8-0 record and Top-25 ranking (#13 at the time of writing), last fall semester the football team also posted a cumulative GPA of 3.20, it’s best showing in school history.
Fleck pushes his players to become great students and great members of the community just as much as he pushes them to become great football players. And while some people chafe at Fleck’s pandering for the spotlight, I would point out that in three years the glare has yet to reveal a dark side, much less a downside.
If P.J. Fleck wants to be recognized more as a brand influencer than just a football coach, I say, let’s do it! Cargill, UHG, Target, Best Buy, CHS, U.S. Bankcorp, General Mills, 3M and Ecolab could do a lot worse than having P.J. pitch their brands and talk to their ranks about how to become “elite.”
To me, the biggest threat is USC. I can see Fleck following in Pete Carroll’s steps, bringing in Hollywood “A-Listers” and music stars to rub shoulders as he rebuilds the ruins of the crumbled Trojan empire, all while basking in the warm California sun.
Minnesota, the question is, do you want to be “elite?” Or, do you want to go back to where we were for the past half century? Again, I’m looking for the perfect answer.