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Minnesota Football: P.J. Fleck keeping co-offensive coordinator plans internal — for now

Play-calling responsibilities are still up in the air

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Syracuse vs Minnesota Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers opened up football spring practice on Tuesday, and one of the storylines this spring will be the changes on the offensive side of the ball. Mohamed Ibrahim, the most prolific running back in program history, is headed to the NFL. Following him out the door are five-year starting quarterback Tanner Morgan and All-American center John Michael Schmitz.

It’s out with the old and in with the new as Athan Kaliakmanis steps in as the starting signal caller, with transfer wide receivers Elijah Spencer and Corey Crooms arriving this spring to help put some air in an offense that was much more comfortable on the ground last season.

Leading the charge on offense will be co-offensive coordinators Matt Simon and Greg Harbaugh. After previous quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca left for Rutgers, Fleck opted to promote from within, Harbaugh from tight ends coach to quarterbacks coach.

It seemed a safe assumption that Simon, who has shared the title of co-offensive coordinator for the last three seasons, would assume play-calling duties. But Fleck was non-committal when asked about offensive play-calling in his Tuesday press conference.

“We’re going to keep that internal, just for right now,” Fleck said. “They both have called plays. They’re really good friends. They spend a ton of time together off the field, with their families. In the office, they have an unbelievable working relationship.”

“Internally, we kind of have a plan of what we’re going to do with [Simon and Harbaugh], but eventually we’ll let you know who that is.”

There is no real competitive advantage to withholding the name of the offensive play-caller, so this would seem to suggest Fleck is truly undecided on the matter. But he stressed that both are very capable of calling plays, citing Simon’s play-calling experience from past bowl games.

Pressed on how the co-coordinator setup works, Fleck explained that while ultimately only one of the co-coordinators calls plays (e.g. Joe Rossi on defense), the title is essential to creating opportunities for coaches to grow their responsibilities and develop within the program.

His answer went hand-in-hand with his response to a question about the additions of offensive analyst Keegan O’Hara and senior defensive analyst Dennis Dottin-Carter. Both positions were created as a result of the increased salary pool Fleck received with his contract extension.

“I think that having other people around with even more expertise adds value to the staff. It’s more opinions in the room,” Fleck explained. “You know how I love to hire from within. And it gives you the ability to keep building coaches within your organization, so that when [positions] do open, you can just hire from within and keep elevating coaches. You don’t have to re-train people.”

Harbaugh would seem to be a great example. He first served as a graduate assistant under Fleck at Western Michigan before following him to Minnesota, where he spent two stints as a quality control assistant. Harbaugh was hired last year as tight ends coach, and now he finds himself filling the roles of quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator.

We’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out if he can add play-calling duties to his resume.