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Latest 'Being P.J. Fleck' episode revisits tough times and perseverance

Greetings, college football fans. Just some odds and ends ahead of today’s Gophers practice (3:30 p.m., Gibson-Nagurski complex), which is open to the public:

Wednesday night, the third of four episodes of “Being P.J. Fleck’’ aired on ESPNU. This episode took things back to Fleck’s first year at Western Michigan, when the Broncos went 1-11 in 2013.

 

 

Fleck leaned heavily on his former coaches for advice during that tough stretch.

From former San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan: “He went through a lot that first year. I told him to show how to be a leader when you’re not winning. … He probably did his best job [coaching] when they won one game, not when they won 13 [in 2016].’’

Joe Novak, Fleck’s coach at Northern Illinois, was impressed how Fleck held to his plan. “P.J. did it his way, and that’s a good thing,’’ he said.

During those tough times in 2013, Fleck, who was going through a divorce, met Heather Jackson. They would marry in 2016. “She holds me accountable,’’ Fleck said. “… That’s inspiring when you have your wife doing that.’’

Fleck also pointed to how his coaching record has improved since meeting Heather. “I was 1-11 without her,’’ he said, “and I’m like 29-10 with her.’’

Though living in Minnesota now, Fleck has a lake home near Kalamazoo, Mich., and he and his family spend a couple of weeks each summer there. The episode showed how the coach recharged this summer as training camp approached. “Water is our serenity,’’ he said. “We’re on the boat every single day.’’

Regarding his lake home, Fleck told of how he’ll follow the lead that Alabama coach Nick Saban set in an interview. “The best advice I ever got was never sell the lake house,’’ Fleck paraphrased Saban as saying.

The highlight of the episode was Fleck using a miniature replica of the College Football Playoff national championship trophy and a weathered-looking goblet as a metaphors for the climactic scene of “Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade.’’ Fleck was instructing a video producer how he wanted to use that scene as a motivational tool for his team.

In that movie, the search for the Holy Grail ends in a tomb with a variety of grails, most shiny and opulent, but one ordinary and weathered. Choosing the correct grail would give life, while the incorrect one would bring death. The movie’s bad guy chose the shiny grail and died, then Indiana Jones chose the ordinary one and gave life.

“Cheers, Indy,’’ Fleck said, who toasted the scene with a weathered goblet of his own.

Fleck's moral of the story: His team has to put in the work and drink from the ordinary cup before it can achieve the shiny one.

Later, he held that weathered goblet and said, “This is what we’re gonna put in the display case before we get one of these,’’ then holding the replica national championship trophy.

The final episode will air Wednesday at 8 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

Food drive at practice

Along with today’s practice being open to the public, the Gophers specialists (@MinnSpecialists) are holding a Can O’ Corn food drive. Fans are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to practice. All items will be donated to the Heart for Hunger campaign.

Scrimmage insights: Quarterback update and more from Fleck

And the winner of the Gophers’ quarterback battle is …

Stay tuned.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck on his Sunday morning WCCO Radio appearance said that both Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda “did a lot of really good things’’ during Saturday’s scrimmage, but neither has won the starting job as the Aug. 31 season opener against Buffalo approaches.

“There still hasn’t been that one guy who’s said, ‘This is my job. I do this way better than the other guy,’ ’’ Fleck said.

“The decision is getting tougher because they are both improving,’’ Fleck added. “… Hopefully we’ll be able to make that decision in a reasonable time coming up.’’

Saturday’s scrimmage, which was closed to the public and media, ran about 130 plays. “We had to be able to get our young kids reps,’’ Fleck said “We had to put our quarterbacks in a lot of tough situations.’’

Fleck emphasized that being decisive and avoiding turnovers will be key for whichever quarterback wins the starting job. “The teams that usually are at the top of their divisions, they win the turnover margin,’’ he said. “… Whenever the quarterback touches [the ball] every single play, the decisions he makes, decisively, end up being the difference of the season.’’

Overall, Fleck was pleased with the scrimmage.

“I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made,’’ he said. “Does it mean we’re fifth-year seniors across the board and we have depth everywhere? No. But we’ve gotten better since the beginning of training camp to now.’’

Notes

** Fleck lauded true freshman receiver Demetrius Douglas for his performance in the scrimmage. “He has been outstanding,’’ Fleck said. “… Incredible leader. It looks like he’s been here three years.’’

** Fleck liked what he saw from true freshman Rey Estes at cornerback and expects the former quarterback to provide needed depth in the secondary. The coach also said Justus Harris, another true freshman, could help at nickelback.

** Fleck on true freshman offensive tackle Blaise Andries: “If we can play him, and he’s going to play [extensively], we’ll play him. You never want to play a kid to kind of be a backup and he plays the ninth game one rep.’’

Fleck sees Andries improving while taking his lumps. “He’s gotta get used to getting his butt kicked at times but also knowing to look at it from the positive side,’’ he said.