Recently, the Purdue Boilermakers hired Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm as it’s new coach. Brohm/Purdue
I wondered then, as I still do, if Brohm did the right thing by taking the job when he might have waited for some other job to open.
I might wonder the same thing with PJ Fleck taking the Minnesota job. Can he row his boat at Minnesota as he did at Western Michigan? Can he train Gophers to row boats?
In my lifetime, Purdue has had several really good football teams, but not very many with Minnesota. In 1967, the Gophers finished in a 3 way tie with Purdue and Indiana with the Hoosiers gaining the Rose Bowl berth.
They had Lou Holtz briefly in the 1984 and 1985 season before the Notre Dame Fighting Irish came
Glen Mason was their best coach since I have been following the game and he left Minnesota with a 64-57 record in 10 seasons.
Minnesota is a tough place to win. Maybe Lou Holtz could have produced a consistent winner there. But, his dream school, Notre Dame, came calling. He even had it in his contract that he would leave for only one school and that was the Fighting Irish.
P.J. Fleck is a dynamic young coach and an outstanding recruiter. Western Michigan hired Fleck when he was 32 years old as their head coach and he did not get off to a great start.
His first season at Western Michigan resulted in a rough 1 win and 11 losses. But, that didn’t stop Fleck and his coaching staff from signing the best recruiting class in the Mid American Conference and the best all time for Western Michigan.
The 1-11 record in 2013 proved to be a fluke and the Western Michigan Broncos finished the 2014 season with an 8-5 record and they repeated that in 2015. During the 2015 season, they played Big 10 Champion Michigan State and Ohio State.
In 2016, the Western Michigan and their Row Your Boat theme became nationally known to football fans as the Broncos finished the regular season with an impressive 12-0 record.
They did lose a close game to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl to finish 12-1, but still an impressive
showing by the Broncos and their exciting young coach.
The MAC has always been a development league for young coaches and when one does well he is noticed by the Power 5 Conference schools in need of a new head coach. Fleck was the talk of the nation.
Personally, I was thinking he would wait for his ideal job to open up and after finishing 9-4 in 2016, I did not see Minnesota firing their coach. But, because of off field issues with several of their players , they must have figured it was time to make a move. Nice guy Tracy Claeys was named Minnesota’s interim coach in 2015 when his boss Jerry Kill suddenly resigned because of health issues. Claeys was named head coach right after the 2015 season ended. It’s not clear whether Claeys got a fair shake, but the Gophers were trying to avoid a Baylor situation. Claeys is really laid back which is the exact opposite of young P.J. Fleck.
Excitement is building in Minnesota and so is recruiting. The complication for a school like Minnesota is that the state of Minnesota provides very little high school talent. In ESPN’s rankings, there are only 5 prospects in the home state and 4 of them are committed to the Gophers. To the West lies the Dakotas, North and South and top talent is rare. The same is also true of states to the East and to the South.
No problem for Fleck, the Gophers have commitments from all over the nation. Included in their
recruiting class is the number 1 rated Junior College Dual Threat Quarterback in the nation in Neil McLaurin from Laurel, Mississippi by way of Southwest Mississippi Community College. Nothing against current Quarterbacks at Minnesota, but a talented Dual Threat Quarterback may be just what they need.
The Gophers return 8 starters on Offense and 5 starters on Defense, so Fleck’s first season at Minnesota shouldn’t be like his 1-11 first season at Western Michigan.
Although, I was surprised that P.J. Fleck took the Minnesota job, I do believe he will knock it out of the park for the Gophers.
Grab your popcorn, pull up a chair and follow the Minnesota Gophers. Maybe they will be a contender in the Big 10 West while P.J. Fleck is on the job.