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TV Recap: ESPN’s ‘Being P.J. Fleck’ - “Just Keep Rowing”

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The series delves further into the Gopher head coach’s philosophies in terms of coaching, recruiting, and culture

Gopher Sports

Last night, ESPNU aired the second episode in a four-part series, “Being P.J. Feck.”

Here are a few of the highlights from “Just Keeping Rowing”:

“There are no trap games with Coach Fleck.” Each week, Fleck uses a different overarching message or theme to engage the players. The idea is to keep players focused week-to-week and avoid looking ahead to an upcoming game or letting a previous week’s linger. It also helps fulfill his role as an educator, which is very important to Fleck.

Fleck believes being a coach is about creating moments and memories. We all remember the Easter egg hunt that led to former walk-on linebacker Blake Cashman receiving his scholarship. Fleck cites this as an example of how he is trying to create moments and memories for his players. He believes the key to achieving a pure reaction is complete surprise, which is easier said than done. “It might’ve been silly. People might’ve laughed at it. They can’t call it ‘phony’ all they want. But Blake Cashman will never forget that moment,” he said.

The new recruiting philosophy is all about finding “How-phers.” Fleck was asked about his recruiting philosophy, and he talked about emphasizing heart, spirit, will, passion, energy, purpose, and determination — the things that you can’t measure. He doesn’t put much stock in the star ratings from recruiting services, and believes that recruiting is less about talent and more about finding the player that fits your culture. Fleck wants them to be able to succeed athletically, academically, socially, and spiritually at Minnesota.

He also made mention of how 70 different programs across the country reported him to the NCAA for a (non-)recruiting violation, which made headlines earlier this summer.

Serving and giving are essential to the new culture. Once a week or once every other week, Fleck and a group of players will volunteer and visit with patients at the Masonic Children’s Hospital. He believes that it provides the players with some much-needed perspective. It was also cool to see that each patient is presented with a “compass coin,” which is something each member of the football program already owns. The patients are encouraged to hold it in their palm whenever they’re feeling down, as it signifies that they are part of the Gopher family.

The “Row the Boat” culture was born after the worst day of his life. We’ve covered this ad nauseam here on the blog, but Fleck talked about how he developed the “Row the Boat” mantra following the death of his newborn son on Feb. 9, 2011, due to a heart condition. Fleck describes it as the “worst day of his life,” but talks about how he now lives two lives — one for him and one for his late son. While some will dismiss it as a marketing gimmick, he also points out that he doesn’t profit from the trademark — all proceeds from the merchandise sales go toward the Masonic Children’s Hospital.

Avocado toast and hard-boiled eggs are a breakfast staple in the Fleck household. Draw whatever conclusions you want from that.

Catch next week’s episode, “Compete-Compete-Compete,” at 8 p.m., Wednesday, on ESPNU.