Former Gophers coach Jerry Kill, in a recent interview with BTN.com's Tom Dienhart, said new coach P.J. Fleck "walked into a gold mine." Kill took issue with any insinuation that Fleck needs to "rebuild" the program.
Kill, who resigned because of health reasons in October 2015 is now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers. Here's an excerpt from Kill's interview with Dienhart:
Q: Do you think you’ll be a head coach again?
A: I don’t think so. I will be 56 years old. I enjoy what I do. This is what I need to be doing at this point. I have proven to myself that I was a good head coach for 24 years counting high school. I helped a lot of kids and won a lot of games. We turned around every program we took on, including Minnesota regardless of what they say. That thing was a mess and we built it up. Coach [Tracy] Claeys went 9-4 and got fired over a situation that in my opinion shouldn’t have happened and I have been public about that with the new A.D.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on Minnesota?
A: People were saying they have to rebuild Minnesota. Shoot. That thing is built and ready to go. This year should be the best that Minnesota has had. I support [P.J.] Fleck on what he is doing. You have to do what you have to do. It is his program now. But I am not crazy about him saying they have to rebuild the program. We went in there and said a lot of the same things when I took over, but that’s not the case now. That new A.D. [Mark Coyle] has no idea what we inherited. [Former A.D.] Joel Maturi does. Call him. We inherited a mess. [Fleck] has walked into a gold mine.
Checking the transcripts
The Gophers hired Fleck to replace Claeys on Jan. 6. Checking the transcripts of Fleck's interviews and press conferences since then, I found just two references to the word "rebuild."
From Fleck's introductory press conference:
Q: Last year, this team won nine games. Is this a reclamation project?
A: I think I have to do a lot more investigation what we have, what we have coming in, what we have that that's moving on, but I look at it as a cultural change. This is not a complete rebuild of a tradition and culture. This is cultural change though. Like I said, for the first year of digging, that's what that is. It's digging to find out how much we have to dig, what culture -- what types of culture we have to change, what doesn't need to be changed, how we can work through the different branches of how we've got to be able to get things done. But I do know this, the staff that was here before deserve those nine wins. They did a tremendous job on the field, and we want to continue that type of success as we move forward.
From Tuesday's post-practice Q&A:
Q: How long will it take this team to practice the way you want?
A: We’re always evolving. We always tell these guys there’s a long road to .500. You never arrive. There’s never going to be a point where I sit there – 'We got it, it looks perfect, we’ll keep it there.' We’re going to continue to break it, rebuild it into something different. And that’s what change your best philosophy is all about. And that’s hard for young people. We’re in an instant gratification and we’re in an instant messaging world. That whatever I have in my phone is now old. How else are you going to entertain me? Same with practice, how else are we going to get them to a new level, instead of good enough. Their best is not good enough in this culture.
These things happen. New coaches talk excitedly of taking the program to new heights. Former coaches bristle, believing their methods were unappreciated. I also think some of this is rooted in the former staff's feelings toward Coyle. On Jan. 3, when Coyle fired Claeys, the AD made this comment:
“I determined that the football program must move in a new direction to address challenges in recruiting, ticket sales and the culture of the program. We need strong leadership to take Gopher football to the next level and address these challenges."
With the Gophers half-way through spring camp, Fleck has spoken of the challenge of having just five healthy offensive linemen in camp, with three probable starters recovering from surgery. He has mentioned concerns at defensive tackle, where the Gophers have zero freshmen or sophomores and one junior on the roster. Health is a concern at tight end, there are depth concerns at cornerback, and the Gophers need a quarterback to replace longtime starter Mitch Leidner.
Fleck hasn't made any big Year 1 promises, but he's pretty enthusiastic whenever he talks about the program. Here's the latest example: