“‘Ski-U-Mah’ meets ‘Row the Boat’!”
Those were the first words from new Gopher head football coach P.J. Fleck in his introductory press conference earlier this afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium. There was a lot to unpack and I’m sure a video of the full press conference will be made available later, but for now I’ll recap the highlights from the presser.
In his opening statement, Fleck talked about his shared vision with athletic director Mark Coyle and the championship aspirations that both have for the football program at Minnesota. He described Minnesota as his “dream,” having grown up wanting to play or coach in the Big Ten.
One of things he emphasized was the need for everyone — the media included — to buy into the program. Everyone has a role to play in taking this program to the next level. He talked about the program needing to serve the community and placing a greater emphasis on giving to others rather than focusing on themselves. He wants to “connect people to Gopher football that don’t even like football.”
Fleck mentioned that his wife, Heather, would be a fantastic ambassador for the university, and joked that if you think he is energetic and passionate, just wait until you meet her. He talked about wanting his family and the families of his coaching staff to be around and involved with the football program.
The importance of recruiting
Recruiting is the number one pipeline for any college football program, according to Fleck. He talked about the everyday actions of everyone within the program being essential to recruiting and helping ensure that people want to be a part of it.
He also stated that he wants Minnesota to become a national brand. At the risk of sounding like a former Gopher head coach we all know and dread, Fleck didn’t shy away from talking about winning the Big Ten and even a national championship. “My entire life has been about running into the fire, not away from it.”
A culture change, not a rebuild
Fleck didn’t describe his work as a rebuild, but rather a culture change. “I am not here to change tradition. I am here to change a culture.” He acknowledged that change will be hard, because “everybody wants change until you get change.” And he assured the assembled crowd at the press conference that “change has arrived.”
When asked about the recent turmoil surrounding the football program, Fleck said he didn’t have enough information to provide a specific answer, but instead emphasized that his tenure with Minnesota will focus on moving forward and not dwelling on the past. He talked about being solution-driven and wanting to provide each of his players with solutions in their personal lives and in their football and academic careers.
He was able to address Gopher players via Facebook Live earlier today, with only 25 of the players on campus at the moment. Fleck talked about his responsibility to find solutions to improve their lives, in terms of their personal lives, on the field, and in the classroom. “The head football coach’s job has a lot more to do with people than players.”
Asked if “Row the Boat” would be a part of his program here at Minnesota, Fleck admitted he’d like to use it, but emphasized that “Ski-U-Mah” will be the centerpiece of his culture here. He talked about looking up “Ski-U-Mah” on Wikipedia with his wife during the hiring process, and added that he doesn’t want “people to have to look up ‘Ski-U-Mah’ on Wikipedia” anymore.
Assembling a coaching staff
Fleck was asked about whether or not he’ll retain members of the previous coaching staff, considering he worked with a lot of them at Northern Illinois. He made no promises and said that he’ll move quickly to assemble his staff, and that he’ll evaluate members of both his current staff at Western Michigan and the previous staff at Minnesota as part of the process.
In regards to his coaching staff, Fleck mentioned that he’ll focus on three things when evaluating potential assistant coaches:
- He wants elite teachers, and not just of football, but of life. He wants coaches who can teach lessons in multiple different ways to a variety of different people.
- He wants evaluators, and not just of skill, but of talent.
- More than anything, he wants men of integrity. He wants coaches who would never ask something of someone that they wouldn’t do themselves.
Fleck also talked about being excited to invite the media to practices. “It’ll be the most unique thing you’ve ever seen in your life,” he said.
Last but not least, my favorite line from the presser: ““I eat difficult conversations for breakfast.”
Here is the full video of his opening statement: