rowtheboatFrom the moment P.J. Fleck became a candidate for the Gophers football head coaching job, Minnesota fans picked up on his “Row The Boat” mantra at Western Michigan.

Plenty of programs have catchy slogans intended to create a sense of unity — the Gophers, for instance, have used “Brick by Brick” — but it’s important to note a few things about Row The Boat now that Fleck has been hired by the U.

1) It has deep personal meaning to Fleck. As he explains in an ESPN video, the phrase has roots in the death of his newborn son in 2011.

“It’s a never-give-up mantra,” Fleck said. “I lost my second son to a heart condition. As you hold your son as he takes his last breath, that’s pretty tough to go through — and your whole life changes. … You’re living your life for someone else. He’s on my back, always. That’s where row the boat originated.”

2) Further explained in that video is the broader message within the three-word mantra. It’s more than just something to write on your chest during a plunge into cold water (photo via mlive.com from 2013).

“The oar is the energy you bring to your life, your family, your spiritual life, your academic life. It’s what you bring to life. You choose whether your oar is in the water or out of the water. If your oar is out of the water, you’re not going to go anywhere,” he said. “The boat is the sacrifice — what are you willing to give up for something you’ve never had. The compass is the direction of your life set by the leader.”

At that point, Fleck dropped in a colorful phrase that you can interpret at your leisure. It’s not quite “get your chili hot,” but …

“If you surround yourself with turds, you’re going to go to turdville.”

But he quickly got back into the broader message of what it means to row a boat and how that pertains to being on a team. “When you’re rowing a boat, you can’t see where you’re going. … Your back is toward the future, you can’t control it. You’re rowing in the present, which is the only thing you can control. But you’re looking at the past, which is the only thing you can’t change — but you have to learn from it.”

3) What remains unclear is whether Fleck will be able to continue using “Row the Boat” now that he has been hired as Gophers coach. The Western Michigan Board of Trustees owns the trademark on the phrase (the application began in 2013 and was finalized in 2015, per this document).

The University could try to get permission to transfer the use of the slogan now that Fleck has changed jobs. That’s probably agenda item No. 87 on a long list of things to accomplish and/or ask about during Friday afternoon’s news conference, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

One would imagine — as long as there aren’t lingering bad feelings from Western Michigan — that something could be arranged given what the phrase means to Fleck and what Fleck meant to that program.

Either way, feel free to keep using the #RowsBowl hashtag.

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