Hurricane Fleck blew into town Friday, and whew, this thing is definitely a Category 5.
The Gophers didn’t put on an introductory news conference for their new football coach. They hosted a revival.
Upon being called to the stage, P.J. Fleck didn’t walk up the steps. He literally ran. A faulty microphone prevented amplification to the assembled crowd. Pfft, no worries. Fleck used his normal inside voice, which carries a decibel level of New York City rush hour.
Athletic director Mark Coyle said he wanted to “shake the tree” in making a coaching change. Mission accomplished, Mark. You did more than shake it. You blasted that sucker with a bazooka.
Fleck’s welcome to Minnesota unfolded as advertised. The 36-year-old dynamo delivered a sermon that bordered on hyperventilation.
Fleck showed energy and passion and a unique view of his job description.
“Remember, I am the ‘how’ coach, I am the character coach, I am the people coach,” he said.
Must be hard to fit all that on a business card.
Fleck used catchy acronyms and metaphors to describe his coaching philosophies. He vowed to make the slogan Ski-U-Mah a national brand.
He did a spot-on impersonation of Jerry Kill’s twang and gave a quote that sounded like it should have been delivered by Jack Nicholson.
“My entire life has been about running into the fire, not away from the fire,” he said. “I eat difficult conversations for breakfast. That’s why I took this job.”
But can he win at this job? That’s the $18 million question, a gamble that Coyle was willing to take to avoid seeing TCF Bank Stadium half-empty on beautiful fall Saturdays.
The instant euphoria that accompanies a coaching hire can be intoxicating. Anything seems possible in the glow of something new and fresh. And boy is this different. Fleck’s personality resides on the opposite end of the universe of his predecessor, Tracy Claeys.
“You won’t meet a more real person in the entire world,” Fleck declared.
Gophers fans still suffering from Brewster-itis might have listened to Fleck’s introduction and broke into a nervous sweat. We’ve seen a rah-rah salesman at work before.
Former coach Tim Brewster once had a UPS driver interrupt one of his first spring practices to deliver a box that contained a section of Rose Bowl turf that Brewster had cut out and shipped to Minnesota. Brewster gathered his players and told them that the grass would be placed in the locker room as a reminder of their mission.
Even Mike Zimmer’s fat cats thought that gimmick was over the top.
Fleck undoubtedly will use quirky ploys to motivate his players, but here’s a key point to remember: His résumé includes running a successful Division I program.
Western Michigan went 13-0 this season before losing to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.
The Broncos finished ninth nationally in scoring offense, 15th in scoring defense. They were tied for first in turnover margin, committing the fewest turnovers in all of FBS with only eight. They had the second-best third-down conversion rate in college football.
That is substance, not shtick.
Does Fleck’s Row The Boat mantra guarantee that he will enjoy similar success here? Of course not. But he deserves a chance to prove himself without assuming doom and gloom. The guy clearly has some coaching chops. Ultimately, that’s how he should and will be judged.
“I’m going to promise you a lot because that’s the way I live my life,” he said.
Fleck’s boundless energy and gung-ho personality should help heal lingering wounds from the recent crisis that ushered his arrival. He inherited a volatile situation. Players were angry. Fans were angry. A division exists that isn’t healthy.
“I am here to change the culture,” he said.
His hiring will bring the program some positive national attention for a change. Fleck is a hot name in college football, so this move will make a splash. Coyle’s approval rating probably no longer mirrors the temperature outside, either.
Nobody knows for sure if Fleck will succeed or fail here. But based on first impressions, he certainly won’t be boring.
“I got news for everybody,” he said. “Change has arrived.”
That is quite the understatement.