P.J. Fleck is a human hurricane, a torrent of energy who believes sitting still for longer than 30 seconds is procrastinating. He’s a sloth’s antithesis.
So let’s check in to see how the Gophers football coach is handling self-quarantine at home.
“We’re staying plenty busy,” he said in the least shocking news ever.
“We got a puppy,” he continued.
Bella, a 2 ½-pound Maltipoo who is house-trained now and is reported to be low maintenance, high energy.
Fleck’s mornings include a workout with wife Heather on an interactive home fitness system called Mirror. Nights feature virtual euchre tournaments with friends in Michigan and little, if any, TV watching.
Fleck and Heather also have a dinner date planned in which they’re going to dress up like they are headed out to their favorite restaurant, except they’ll dine at Chez Fleck.
Then there’s the business of trying to prepare a football team that should begin the season ranked in the top 15 nationally without knowing if the season will be delayed or possibly even canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fleck has discussed contingency scenarios with his staff in case stay-at-home orders extend long enough to disrupt the season.
“It’s OK to peek and plan,” he said, “but I do not think it’s OK to panic right now.”
Fleck always preaches the importance of not allowing circumstances, good or bad, to dictate how his team prepares. It’s one of his bedrock themes. These aren’t normal circumstances though. Fleck sounds undeterred.
“Everybody is finding a way to continue to have life move forward and continue to grow and be better from it,” he said. “It’s very challenging in these unprecedented times.”
Rules permit two hours per week of athletically related activities, which Fleck’s position coaches use to host meetings with their groups via Zoom video conferencing. Instruction on scheme and fundamentals are similar to spring practice, only virtual now.
Fleck also sends videos, connects with players individually and invites guest speakers to give talks that focus on supporting mental and emotional needs. Fleck is mindful that a team of 100-plus players offers a wide range of circumstances and family dynamics. A number of players have parents who have lost their jobs. Some players returned home to tough environments. Distance learning presents new challenges.
“There’s a sensitivity to it because we’re all affected at different levels,” Fleck said. “We do everything we can to make sure our players are safe.”
Recruiting remains a priority even in self-isolation. Fleck estimates spending three to four hours daily on FaceTime chats with recruits and their families. One silver lining: Reaching recruits is easier now, and he has a chance to talk to recruits, their parents, siblings, sometimes grandparents at the same time. His staff created a video that allows recruits to take a virtual campus tour.
“It forces you to find a way to not let the circumstances dictate how you run the program,” he said. “I think we are a very creative staff.”
Improvisation is particularly necessary in strength training, vital for every football team. With players scattered across the country and fitness centers closed, Fleck’s staff made a video that provides ideas for strength training using household items, if weights or other equipment aren’t available.
“Pots, pans, garbage cans, brothers and sisters,” he said.
“If you’ve got little brothers and sisters,” Fleck said, “put them on your back and do squats.”
Whatever works. That’s what this crisis requires because nobody knows when teams will be able to reconvene. Football coaches tend to obsess over every single facet of their program. They like to be in control, but so much is out of their control now.
Fleck said what might happen to the season is on his mind and in conversations, but he’s not letting himself be consumed by it.
“We want what’s best for our country and our people and keep them safe and healthy as we move forward,” he said. “And if there is football, great. If we have to work to alternate that a little bit, great. But to sit there and say we’re focusing on that is premature.”