CHICAGO – Here at Big Ten Media Days, there's a big break between the morning press conferences and afternoon breakout sessions. And while I've got Gophers holder Casey O'Brien's speech in between, I thought I'd use this time to share an interesting anecdote from P.J. Fleck on Thursday.
Remember back in January, when offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca reportedly turned down an offer to join West Virginia's coaching staff under Neal Brown? Apparently, that move was much closer to being made than we knew.
Fleck himself said he "lost" his longtime coordinator.
"He literally called me at 11 p.m. and said, 'I'm going.' Nobody knows this," Fleck said in his breakout session. "And I said, 'Listen, Kirk, you've given me six amazing years.' And I said, 'I couldn't be happier for you.'"
Brown is someone Ciarrocca worked with at Delaware in 2005, much like he worked with Fleck at Rutgers in 2010 before becoming his coordinator at Western Michigan in 2013. So he was choosing between two bosses that he formerly bossed.
Fleck said he quickly started looking for a replacement, remarking how he has a list four-candidates deep at every coaching position so he can transition these moves as seamlessly as possible. He had even interviewed some people.
"But then he calls me, I think, two in the morning. I'm sleeping. And I get a phone call, I'm like, 'It's Kirk. Kirk likes money. And he wants to, he wants to see if I can do anything,'" Fleck said. "And [I'm] like, 'Kirk, can't do anything else, man.' I answer the phone, he's like, 'Is that spot still available?' I was like, 'What?'"
Fleck recalled Ciarrocca saying how he just really believed in what the Gophers were doing and wanted to see through all the work.
"It wasn't about him. He turned down, probably less money. And I've known Kirk for a long time. He wants to win. He wants to be around elite people, but he has a value," Fleck said. "And for him to do that, it meant a lot. It meant a lot to our players. It meant a lot to me. He's been one of my closest friends."
Every year, teams pursue Ciarrocca, Fleck said, alluding to an SEC school last year.
"If it wasn't for Kirk Ciarrocca, I wouldn't be the head coach that I am," Fleck said. "And I love the way I can be the head coach. And Kirk allows me to do that. And I appreciate that."
It's Harbaugh time
If there's one thing to look forward to at any Big Ten conference gathering, it's what's going to come out of Jim Harbaugh's mouth. At just his press conference this morning, the Michigan coach already uttered some gems. So here's a few of my favorites:
- In response to a reporter's to-the-point question about why the conference has missed that past two College Football Playoffs, Harbaugh asked the journalist if that was his "drop the mic" moment. He then added, " I don't have all the answers to that. Maybe something that would be worthy of you researching, studying."
- In response to a question about the caliber of his coaching staff: "I would put my son, Jay Harbaugh, who coaches the running backs, in that group of, but humility prevents me from doing that. But the facts are, he is one of the best young coaches I've seen in 35 years. So I'll put him in that group."
- On how he feels being picked to win the conference: "Um, yeah, I think that's where I would pick us."
- And then, a reporter asked about the Big Ten possibly playing a game in Mexico, since Harbaugh's Michigan is known for its travel. Harbaugh then (kind of) broke some news. "We're scheduling, I think we're really close to announcing, actually, playing another team on foreign soil. I won't say what it is because, have you heard anything about this?" Cue confused looks from the media. "Then I'd better not say it because we're probably not ready to release that yet. But I think there's something really imminent. There will be an announcement soon on that."