When his crew started filming the four-part series “Being P.J. Fleck” this spring, co-executive producer Bo Mattingly had a simple question about the Gophers’ new football coach: “Is this guy for real?”
“P.J. hates that,” Mattingly said. “He’s like, ‘Who the heck else am I supposed to be?’ Well, one of the things we wanted to do was unpack his story.”
Mattingly’s crew spent several weeks following Fleck, getting a behind-the-scene look at the Gophers and Fleck’s family.
ESPNU will show Part 1 on Wednesday at 8 p.m., with the next three parts airing on the same network in the same time slot the following three Wednesdays. Big Ten Network also plans to rebroadcast each episode.
Mattingly went to Fleck’s hometown of Sugar Grove, Ill., tracing the 36-year-old coach’s roots. Fleck’s mother, Linda, worked as a teacher’s assistant for 29 years. His father, Phil, climbed telephone poles as a technician and then worked as an exterminator.
“P.J. really gets his heart -- his note writing and his thoughtfulness and his dealing with people side -- from his mom,” Mattingly said. “And he really gets this grinder, driven motivated mentality from his dad.
“He had this perfect set of parents to really give him these two sides that I think he possesses really well today. He’s a great dad, he’s great with the kids, but he doesn’t really take it easy on them.”
Mattingly said he was struck by how difficult things got for Fleck in 2013, his first year at Western Michigan. The Broncos went 1-11 that year, while Fleck was going through a divorce.
“When you see a guy who’s so positive and upbeat, I think people don’t realize that he’s gone through some really dark times in his life, and they’ve helped shape who he is today,” Mattingly said.
Fleck joked at Big Ten Media Days last week that he’s not sure if this reality show “is going to be like the Kardashians” or if it’s “going to be a little tamer.”
Last year, Mattingly’s company produced “Being Bret Bielema,” after following the Arkansas coach, and that show was generally well-received well by Razorbacks fans.
Now Fleck and the Gophers get their chance for some added national exposure, which could be a boost for recruiting, since Minnesota is an out-of-the-way place on most college football maps.
“This wasn't something that we said: ‘We're going to have a reality show; let's go find somebody to air it,’” Fleck said. “They approached us, which was an honor. One thing I am hired to do is bring national exposure, national attention to the University of Minnesota. And that's what we're going to do.”