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PJ Fleck’s First Year In Historical Context #TBT

At 5-7 PJ Fleck has had arguably the most successful first Gopher season since 1954.

Minnesota Golden Gophers v Purdue Boilermakers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

To put PJ Fleck’s first season into historical context, since 1954 only 2 coaches have won more than 5 games in their first year. Murray Warmath won 7 in 1954 and John Gutekunst won 6 in 1986. To see how every Minnesota coach fared in their first year holler at my TBT from earlier in the season.

PJ jumped out to a fast start, which again was much better than any other coach in the last 6 decades. I compared his first games to Bernie Bierman’s first game and Glen Mason’s. Interesting how the Bierman couldn’t live up to the hype despite winning, while Glen lost but had inherited a terrible team.

Bernie Bierman in 1931

And the takeaway here is that the first year isn’t a great barometer to predict the future. Bierman ended up living up to the hype, Murray Warmath did too. Mason eventually turned the program around, but his first season was horrible. The lack of consistency from a coaching change probably has a lot to do with this. Which is why two coaches that were hired from the previous coaching staff are outliers in this.

Warmath, Murray, with Jerry Helgesen (l) and Bob McNamara (r)
U of M

You could argue, that either John Gutekunst 1986 record of 6-6 or Tracy Claeys 2016 9-4 record were better than Fleck in 2017. Let me tell you why you’d be wrong. First, Gutekunst is a fair argument but I think of his first year as an extension of the Lou Holtz years. Similarly Tracy Claeys inherited the head coaching position from his previous boss. Also if you want to be technical about it, his first season would be 2015 as he was the interim head coach for part of 2015.

What will 2018 look like for PJ Fleck? If you want to compare him to his predecessors it depends on who he reminds you of.

  • Bernie Bierman went undefeated in his second season, going 4-0-4 in 1933.
  • Murray Warmath had a worse second year going 3-6 in 1955.
  • John Gutenkunst went 6-5 in 1987.
  • Glen Mason went 5-6 in 1998.

So you can see it’s still pretty murky in year two. Heck even Tim Brewster went 7-6 in 2008 and we all know how that turned out.