Minnesota’s paranoia of coaches departing the tundra for The Big City or The Bigger Program dates to Lou Holtz, who suckered the state into believing he was committed to the Gophers before leaving after his second season.
Fun fact: Tim Brewster coached more than twice as many Gophers games as Holtz — 45-22.
Holtz’s using the Gophers as a stepping stone led to decades of typical Midwest sports paranoia. Here’s an incomplete but telling list of coaches Minnesotans at one point worried would leave: Brewster, Dan Monson, Tubby Smith, Richard Pitino, and Glen Mason.
Since Holtz, the only successful Gophers coach who has blatantly used Minnesota to find a better job was Brenda Frese, who spent one year on campus before leaving for Maryland, where she won a national championship.
No successful coaches among the prominent Minnesota professional sports teams have left.
Tuesday, P.J. Fleck agreed to a contract extension with Minnesota through the year 2026, and why not? Why would he leave? History says he won’t, and Fleck said Tuesday that he loves it here. He even came really close to using the phrases “quality of life’’ and “not too bad outside.’’
Fleck signed the new deal Tuesday, then he and Mark Coyle held brief news conferences, answering questions about the contract before all of the details were known. Fleck emphasized his desire to remain in Minnesota, and Coyle praised Fleck, noting how close the two have become.
Coyle and Fleck got the deal done a handful of days before the biggest game on campus in decades. On Saturday, Fleck’s undefeated, 13th-ranked Gophers will face undefeated, fifth-ranked Penn State at TCF Bank Stadium.
Without the contract announcement, one of this week’s story lines would have been Fleck’s name being circulated in rumors about the Florida State job — and probably every other Power Five conference job that will come open in the next few months.
This contract quashes that talk this week, and for the next year, because it would cost another school $10 million to buy Fleck out of his Minnesota contract during its first year — in 2020. Fleck’s players and bosses can go about their business unworried about the possibility of his leaving.
For a year.
The doubt is in the details.
The buyout drops to $4.5 million in year two, then to $3 million for two years, then $2 million for two years. Fleck can leave in year seven without being bought out.
If you are one of those people who read only headlines, seeing that Fleck signed a seven-year contract with a first-year buyout of $10 million might make you think that he is locked in for the long haul.
He’s not. Few schools would pay a $10 million buyout — although if Fleck wins his next four games, that theory will be tested.
More schools would pay $4.5 million if Fleck keeps winning.
A lot of schools would pay $3 million or $2 million if he keeps winning.
What we have here between Fleck and Minnesota is not a wedding but an agreement to date exclusively for a while longer.
Viewed through that lens, it’s a reasonable if not definitive deal for both sides. Fleck gets a raise and can tell recruits that he’s committed. Coyle gets peace of mind this week, the rest of this year and probably through 2020.
If Fleck wins big, his loyalty will be tested at some point, and so will Minnesota’s spending limits.
There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the way college football works when your school doesn’t have a “College GameDay” punch card.
Needing to sign Fleck to a massive deal is, in fact, a high point for the program.
Think of it: Gopher football has to worry that some of the richest programs in the country may try to steal their coach. That hasn’t happened since Holtz.
If Fleck wins big, Coyle will have to give him frequent raises, and will have reason to install more and more eight-figure buyouts.