Well, game one is in the books and we are officially into the PJ Fleck chapter of Gopher Football.
I will have to say that I was incredibly excited to see the Gophers on Thursday against Buffalo. Each team has a personality, each coach has a style and I was very much looking forward to seeing both. The verdict after seeing the 17-7 win over Buffalo? I was underwhelmed. But that really does not matter, and that is today’s point.
The dream of Gopher football is in the process. Perhaps you have heard Coach Fleck say such a thing in the previous weeks. This year is part of the process and really a transition year, as it usually is in year one of a new coaching staff.
There are two key realities facing this team.
One, as mentioned several times on this blog, there are some issues of depth and lack of talent in a couple key areas. Not a dearth of talent that will result in a forgettable season, there are some brights spots and areas of depth. This staff has the benefit of some elite talent at certain positions and an overall talent level places this team squarely in the middle of the Big Ten. By contrast, the talent that Jerry Kill inherited was no where near as talented as what Fleck was handed. But poor recruiting along the offensive line, defensive end and the secondary wiped out by last Fall’s scandal leave this team with a few holes that are hard to overcome. Holes that will hurt them as the talent of our opponents improves.
Secondly, a new staff means a new system and a transition time of the players learning what is expected of them while they are learning new responsibilities. It is just a year where players are thinking a little bit more. A year where players and coaches are building trust in each other. These things are generally much less of an issue in year two, but they matter in year one.
Combine those two items and it puts this season into perspective. It is a process.
This isn’t a rebuilding year, it isn’t about sacrificing this season...this team is still talented enough to compete in each game they are playing. This team is capable of making a bowl game. And no doubt everyone in that locker room is working their butts off to win each and every game. But in a sport where the difference between good and great (or great and elite) is razor thin, this first year may not be exactly what we want it to be.
Everyone can find examples here and there of a new coach coming in and outperforming the previous one, but far more typical is a year where things take a step back as the new staff builds their program the way they want it.
It is part of the process. Getting the current roster rowing the boat, adding the right kind of talent to fit the new staff’s system and adding depth across the roster are all things that are coming.
PJ Fleck isn’t here to finish 3rd in the Big Ten West. He wants to win it. No predictions here if he will or won’t, but that is what he is here to do. And getting there is a process. We are witnessing this process and going along on the journey. No sense getting too worked about the short-term when the vision is success in the long-term. He may not get us there, it may take longer than we’d like but maybe he does and this is just the beginning of the journey.
Ultimately we won the first game. It wasn’t pretty and we didn’t come anywhere near the 3 or 4 score point spread, but it was a win. Mike Tice reminded us to, “Enjoy the season.” This is true, but enjoy the season from the perspective of enjoying the process.