Last night, ESPNU aired the final installment in a four-part series, “Being P.J. Fleck.”
Here are a few of the highlights from “Sleeping Giant”:
The Land O’ Lakes Center for Excellence was a key selling point. One of the first things that athletic director Mark Coyle showed Fleck during his courtship back in January was the plans for the new athletic facilities. During the episode, he even took the producers on a tour of the in-progress athletic center, where he talked about how it represents a substantial commitment to athletics from the university. Fleck also emphasized that there are 725 student athletes at Minnesota and that this new facility will allow them all to come together as more of a close-knit community.
For Fleck, the Land O’ Lakes Center for Excellence is a game-changer. In his words, it’s going to help Minnesota win championships.
Merrick Jackson received a challenge from Fleck — and answered the call. Fleck had an honest exchange with senior defensive tackle Merrick Jackson. “You have a decision to make,” he said. Fleck talked about Jackson’s maturation as a three-technique defensive lineman being crucial to the Gophers’ success on defense, but that he wasn’t seeing the maturity and consistency he needed for that to happen. “If he thought I was doing the best that I could be doing, he wouldn’t be pushing me,” Jackson said.
Fleck sprinted to celebrate with Jackson later on in practice after multiple sacks of quarterback Conor Rhoda. “That’s what I’m talking about!”
“How do you bring the Axe back to Minnesota?” At a motivational speaking engagement at Land O’ Lakes, Fleck was asked how he plans to end the Gophers’ miserable losing streak against rival Wisconsin. He responded with a question of his own, asking whether fans would accept four straight 1-11 seasons if those four wins were all against Wisconsin. Fleck seems well aware of Gopher fans’ agony over the humiliating 13-year absence of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but understands that success is not determined by your record against a single opponent.
Fleck certainly isn’t afraid to fail. This much was clear when he challenged sophomore linebacker Kamal Martin to a race and lost — twice.
The players are well versed in Fleck-speak. Shannon Brooks, Rashad Still, Carter Coughlin, and Emmit Carpenter were among the players that the series interviewed for this final episode. And each of them espoused the phrases (“Change your best”) and words (“elite”) we’ve been hearing from Fleck for the last seven months. Obviously, buying into a culture is more than being able to regurgitate buzz words, but it’s clear that Fleck has worked tirelessly to educate them on the foundations of his culture.
The show’s producers know quality content when they see it.
I can tell you GoAUpher was on cloud nine after seeing his O.J. Smith article show up on ESPNU. Personally, I think he should retire now and abdicate his management position to me and DarkKnight5, but negotiations are ongoing. I’ll keep you posted.
The final words of the series make clear Fleck’s plan for Gopher Football. Minnesota “is a sleeping giant. And we’re going to wake it up.”
If you were hoping for an eye-opening Hard Knocks-esque look at P.J. Fleck and the Golden Gopher football program, this was certainly not that. Being P.J. Fleck ended up as more of an introductory course on Fleck and why he decided to spend the foreseeable future in Minneapolis. But when was the last time ESPN approached the head football coach at Minnesota for a four-part series? The national publicity is an absolute positive for the program and will undoubtedly serve as a recruiting tool for Fleck and his coaching staff. It’s great to see the Gophers in the national spotlight, which is exactly where Coyle wanted to see them when he hired Fleck. The series wasn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it certainly has me excited to see what this new era of Gopher Football holds for the future.