Big Ten Media Days commenced this morning at the Marriott Downtown in Chicago. Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck offered an opening statement and answered questions from the gathered media members (including yours truly).
In a classy touch, Fleck opened his statement by extending thoughts and prayers to the family of late Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who died Sunday.
The race to “MAHturity”
If there was a central theme to Fleck’s comments from this morning, it was that Gopher fans should expect some growing pains this season.
He stressed that the Gophers are talented but young and inexperienced, with only nine scholarship seniors and 14 scholarship juniors on offense and defense. Fleck defines maturity as “when doing what you have to do becomes doing what you want to do.”
But he did add one caveat: “Just because we’re a young and inexperienced team doesn’t mean we can’t win ahead of schedule.”
Failure to finish
Fleck feels that last season’s team wanted to win, but didn’t “refuse to lose.”
“We didn’t have that refuse-to-lose mentality. There’s a major difference between those two things,” he said, citing a couple games last season where the Gophers came up short by a handful of points. This has been a focal point for the team this offseason.
He also felt that the Gophers were not a player-led team last year, and the program will lean on a handful of seniors this year to bring the younger players along.
The “dirty water” years
He referred to those rough early rebuilding seasons at programs as the “dirty water” years, when asked what he learned in his first season at Minnesota. More than anything, he felt reassured of an old adage he learned from Greg Schiano: “Never sacrifice what you really want down the road for what you want right now.”
He acknowledged we live in a society that demands instant gratification, but that in college football it takes time for the players to learn the culture and then master it.
Improving the passing game
When asked about his expectations for the passing game this season, Fleck made a point to mention that Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense went from one of the worst in the country in his first season at Western Michigan to one of the best by Year 4. In short, he trusts his offensive coordinator, and talked about adapting the system to their players’ strengths.
“It comes down to how well our quarterback can play. And I’m really excited to see, out of the two guys, who can win the team. We have two quarterbacks. That’s not exactly a position every coach wants to be in.”
An endorsement for injury reports
“I’m all for it,” Fleck said, regarding transparency in terms of injury reports. But he did say that he felt the specifics of injuries should be withheld for the sake of the student-athlete’s privacy.
You can hear his statement and watch the Q&A in full below: