CHICAGO – The clock struck 8 a.m. and P.J. Fleck pounced. Sporting a fresh buzz cut — the result of a losing a bet to his wife — and showing enough energy to complete an Ironman Triathlon, Fleck made his formal introduction to the Big Ten media on Tuesday.
He hit bleary-eyed reporters like a Mike Tyson haymaker.
Hurricane Fleck tossed out Fleck-isms at warp speed, sending Twitter into a tizzy with reporters wondering if the Gophers new football coach was over-caffeinated.
“Sounded like an auctioneer, which is appropriate in some ways because he’s selling,” said Teddy Greenstein, college football writer for the Chicago Tribune.
CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd tweeted before Fleck’s 15-minute session: “Over/under on breaths taken by P.J. Fleck: One.”
The under won.
“I thought it was a typical morning with P.J. Fleck,” Dodd joked afterward. “You better keep up because there’s a lot of information in everything he says.”
Big Ten media days represent the official kickoff to a new season. As a new coach in a new conference, Fleck leapt at his chance to sell his program and his vision to a large audience.
Standing on a dais in a hotel ballroom, he started by saying hi to his four kids who were home watching on TV.
“Harper, quit hitting your sister,” Fleck said. “Please don’t do that anymore.”
And off he went.
“I would say he almost upstaged [Michigan coach Jim] Harbaugh, maybe a little bit in terms of entertaining value,” said Bill Bender of the Sporting News. “He said he wants to put the national spotlight on Minnesota. This is how you do it.”
The Gophers contingent arrived a day early so that Fleck could make rounds on radio row. He conducted interviews with 11 stations, along with several one-on-one interviews with national outlets — a day before he was obligated to show up.
Big Ten Network senior writer Tom Dienhart was shadowing Fleck during his whirlwind Tuesday, which started with a 2-mile run along Lake Michigan at 6:30 a.m.
Within seconds at the front of the room, Fleck acknowledged he’s still in the “honeymoon stage” in Minnesota because he hasn’t coached a game yet. His first 6 ½ months on the job have been a marathon of speeches and selling his program.
He’s literally become his own reality show — ESPNU will air a four-part behind-the-scenes series called “Being P.J. Fleck” starting Aug. 2.
“I don’t know if this is going to be like the Kardashians, or they’re going to spin it that way, or it’s going to be a little bit tamer,” he said.
He says he would have picked a different title for the show, but he’s not apologizing for the publicity.
“One thing I am hired to do is bring national exposure, national attention to the University of Minnesota,” he said. “I think it’s every head coach’s job and responsibility to bring attention to their institution.”
Those who cover the sport nationally believe Minnesota found the right guy to carry that torch.
“He’s very good for the Big Ten,” Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman said. “He makes [the Gophers] relevant because he has so much energy. He’s put such a jolt in there that there’s a lot of intrigue about it.”
Attention is one thing. Fleck was hired to elevate the entire program, and Dodd believes Fleck will be successful.
“I think he’ll bring a new level of athlete to Minnesota,” he said. “He’ll make people care in a place that loves the Vikings and hockey. The Gophers are definitely going to be more high-profile.”