P.J. Fleck hasn’t officially announced his Gophers coaching staff, but holdover linebackers coach Mike Sherels confirmed Saturday that he won’t be part of it. For now.
That’s a shame, though the door remains open for Sherels depending on a proposed NCAA rule change that would expand football coaching staffs by one member.
“P.J. Fleck has been nothing but great to me,” Sherels said. “I don’t have a bad word to say about him. I really don’t.”
Sherels’ immediate focus is on his health. He spoke by phone from Rochester’s Mayo Clinic, where he is recovering from another surgery related to a health situation that nearly killed him this past summer.
On Tuesday, doctors re-connected Sherels’ duodenum to the remaining portion of his transverse colon. In August, he had his entire small bowel removed, along with the right side of his colon and part of his transverse colon in a series of operations that saved his life.
Sherels is optimistic this surgery will enable him to eat and drink again, something he hasn’t been able to do since August.
“Everything went off without a hitch,” he said Saturday morning.
Once he recovers, Sherels hopes to resume coaching, ideally here.
Fleck reportedly has nine assistants already lined up — the maximum number allowed — but he apparently does not have a linebackers coach yet.
The NCAA likely will vote this spring on a recommendation by the American Football Coaches Association to allow a 10th full-time assistant coach.
Nothing is guaranteed and Sherels has been given no indication from Fleck either way. One source said Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle would like to keep Sherels in some capacity in the athletic department if he’s not retained as a coach. Fleck also likely could offer him a non-coaching role on his staff even if the 10th position is not approved.
Every new coach deserves to bring in his own staff. They shouldn’t feel obligated to keep anyone.
But Fleck’s decision to not retain Sherels is a mistake because it’s a missed opportunity by a new coach in a new market.
Sherels brings deep institutional knowledge as a former two-time team captain and assistant coach. He’s popular with his players, state high school coaches and fans. He’s a dynamic recruiter. And he coached the second-most effective position group on the team this season behind running backs.
Sherels would be a smart hire for those reasons. That’s how he wants to be evaluated. On merit. He doesn’t want a pity party.
Sherels met with Fleck several times last week to discuss the program. Sherels gave him a long list of reasons why he believes the program hasn’t won consistently and what needs to change. Fleck took notes.
“Those [issues] to me were a lot more important than trying to get my job saved,” Sherels said.
His devotion to coaching and Gophers football remains remarkable. He returned to the sideline about a month after fighting for his life on a ventilator. He worked long hours despite not being able to eat or drink. He receives nutrients in a formula that is pumped through a line in his chest.
Sherels made his first trip alone after the season to visit recruits, traveling to Oklahoma and Texas. He was “terrified” the first trip because his wife, Emily, has always prepared the formula he receives at night.
“I had a good teacher in Emily and seeing her do it hundreds of times prepared me well,” he said.
The timing of his latest surgery was tricky because it overlapped with Fleck’s arrival. Sherels realized that could complicate his chances of getting on Fleck’s staff, but he didn’t consider rescheduling.
He hopes to eat “socially” again, but he likely always will need additional nutrition via his port. He’s already thinking about how this critical step will affect his coaching, specifically his desire to become a head coach someday.
“How do you go to a booster or go to a donor event and you can’t eat?” he asked. “This has to happen.”
This has been a long, hard journey for Sherels. He hasn’t lost his optimism or fighting spirit.
“Put one foot in front of the other and just keep rolling,” he said.
He vows to continue that march. And if the NCAA adds a 10th coach soon, Fleck shouldn’t look very far to fill it.