Outgoing University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler defended the decision to give football coach P.J. Fleck another contract extension this week by pointing at the national college landscape.
“This is becoming a pretty common way of doing business, at least in the Power Five conferences,” Kaler said Thursday during a Board of Regents committee meeting.
On Friday, the regents formally approved Fleck’s one-year, $3.8 million extension, which lengthens his contract through the 2023 season.
His original five-year, $18 million deal has been extended twice, the first time in November 2017. After the Gophers went 5-7 last year, Fleck this fall led the team to its first win over Wisconsin since 2003, capping a 6-6 regular season and earning a berth in the Quick Lane Bowl. He will make $3.6 million next season, which reflects an annual increase of $50,000, part of the original contract.
This extension gives him five full years of job security, again.
“The alternative is to either do nothing, which in this sports age actually sends a negative message — or to start over with a radically different contract,” Kaler said.
Kaler noted that this contract will make Fleck the 11th highest-paid football coach out of 14 in the Big Ten.
“So, below average,” Kaler added. “And if he produces the kind of competitive results we expect to see, I would imagine my successor and this board would have to revisit that in a way that resets his base [salary].”
Kaler is retiring next summer, and University of South Carolina Provost Joan Gabel is the lone finalist to replace him.
Minnesota’s extended commitment to Fleck falls in line with other Big Ten schools. Five of the conference’s coaches have contracts that extend through 2023, three extend through 2024 and two go through 2026. Three coaches have contracts through 2022, and only one, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, has a deal that expires at the end of the 2021 season.
Like other coaches throughout the country, Fleck earned a bonus for reaching a bowl game -- $75,000, as stipulated in his original contract.
The regents’ support of the extension wasn’t unanimous, with two of the 12 opposing it in a voice vote during Thursday’s committee meeting.
“I’m just not sure we have to go the fifth year,’’ regent Dean Johnson said. “… Coach Fleck is out recruiting now, and he can say to prospective players ‘I am under contract for the next four years.’ Other than redshirt, that individual could say, ‘Yes, I’d like to play for you.’ So, I’m struggling with this.’’
Fleck has been on the road recruiting this week with Wednesday’s opening of the early signing period approaching. He issued a statement Friday that said, in part, “We are building a championship culture that our fans can be proud of.”
Added athletic director Mark Coyle in a statement, “The growth of this program is evident.’’
To regent Michael Hsu, Fleck’s extension was deserved, especially because the victory over Wisconsin gave the Gophers possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe after a 14-year losing streak against the Badgers.
“I don’t know if there was a bonus for getting the Axe back this year, but there probably should have been,’’ Hsu said Thursday.
“I think the team as well as Coach Fleck did salvage a season where nobody thought we would go to a bowl game and win a trophy game.’’