There were essentially two narratives that emerged when it was announced that P.J. Fleck would be the next head football coach at Minnesota:
- He is a Tim Brewster-esque snake oil salesman who will be fired when his gimmicks fail to re-ignite the flame of Gopher Football.
- He will succeed at Minnesota, but will be gone soon after.
The latter is almost certain to rear its ugly head every season with Fleck at the helm, as flailing Power 5 programs exile their underperforming head coaches and scour the college football coaching ranks in search of a savior.
Believe it or not, I’ve already heard his name being included in discussions about the head coaching searches at Florida and Tennessee.
First of all, I would be shocked if P.J. Fleck left the Gophers after one mediocre year. I realize there are openings at Florida, Tennessee, and Ole Miss, with head coaches at Nebraska, Arkansas, Texas A&M, and UCLA under the guillotine. But I believe that Fleck is committed to the University of Minnesota for the foreseeable future, and he doesn’t strike me as being cut from the same cloth as Todd Graham.
It’s also extremely rare for a Big Ten head coach to leave for another Power 5 program, unless you’re Nick Saban or coaching for Wisconsin.
In the last 20 years, Big Ten football programs have fired 23 head coaches, six have retired or resigned, two have died, one has left to coach in the NFL, and three have departed their school for another Power 5 program.
Who are those three?
Saban coached at Michigan State from 1995-99, leading the Spartans to a 10-2 record in his final season at the helm. He never won the Big Ten in his five years with the program. Saban left to take the head coaching position at LSU, where he would win three division titles, two SEC championships, and one national championship in five seasons.
Bielema coached at Wisconsin from 2006-12. He won three consecutive Big Ten championships in his final three seasons with the Badgers, including victories in the the first two Big Ten Championship games ever. But Bielema also lost three consecutive Rose Bowls. He was hired to replace the ousted Bobby Petrino at Arkansas.
But the grass has not been greener for Bielema with the Razorbacks. He is 29-32 overall as he nears the end of his fifth season with the program, and has finished only one season with a conference record over .500 during that span. It’s uncertain at this point whether he’ll be coaching at Arkansas beyond this season.
His replacement at Wisconsin was...
Hired to succeed Bielema, Andersen spent two seasons at Wisconsin. In his second season at the helm, the Badgers went to the Big Ten Championship but suffered a humiliating 59-0 defeat at the hands of Ohio State, the eventual national champion. Four days later, Andersen accepted the head coaching position at Oregon State. It was widely considered to be a lateral move, and Andersen cited family reasons for his departure, but it was later reported that he was frustrated with the university’s academic standards.
His tenure at Oregon State ended earlier this year when he resigned at midseason and declined the buyout in his contract. His final overall record with the Beavers was 7-23.
Gary Barnett coached at Northwestern from 1992-98, but resigned after going winless in the Big Ten and finishing with a 3-9 overall record in his final year at the helm. He was then hired as head coach at Colorado, before being fired after seven seasons with the Buffaloes.
So please pump the brakes if you’re already wringing your hands about Fleck’s future in Minneapolis. I imagine he’ll need to achieve far more than five wins at Minnesota before the helmet schools even come calling. And if those calls ever do come, history will be there to remind Fleck of what fate might await.
And he won’t have Barry Alvarez breathing down his neck.
Fleck will continue to be mentioned on wish lists from every fanbase — which should make you feel good about the fact that Minnesota hired him — but I wouldn’t put any stock in it.
Just keep rowing that boat.