P.J. Fleck isn’t trying to just make do. He’s trying to make more with less.
The Gophers football coach hasn’t let the global pandemic slow recruiting, with Minnesota surging to No. 5 in the latest national recruiting rankings from 247Sports.com.
Fleck has received commitments from a quartet of four-star recruits, while also taking a one-week pay cut to help the University address massive budget shortfalls.
Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino and women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen also agreed to one-week pay cuts, as all University departments examine potential cost-saving measures.
Fleck said everyone needs “to understand that there’s going to be certain sacrifices we all have to make.”
One aspect Fleck won’t sacrifice is the health and wellness of his players. He said as long as the athletics department’s forecasted $10 million to $75 million loss doesn’t compromise the student athletes’ safety, he’s open to different budget navigations.
“At the University of Minnesota, we’re very blessed to have people who care,” Fleck said. “Donors that care, boosters who care. … We’re going to be relying on a lot of different things, whether that’s corporate sponsors, whether that’s private donations.”
The athletics department has not released the pay cut specifics, but with Fleck set to make $4.6 million this year, he’d forfeit a week’s salary of about $88,462. Pitino makes $2.4 million annually, putting him about $46,154 per week. And Whalen is making $496,500, putting her at $9,548 per week.
Fleck said he was “glad” to take that pay cut as something to immediately help. What more he or the department might have to do is still unknown at this point, with athletics director Mark Coyle expected to detail other cost-saving measures at the May 7 Board of Regents meeting. Coyle, as well as others in the athletics department, have also taken pay cuts.
Pitino predicted budget cuts last week.
“So maybe it’s cutting down on travel sizes on the road, flying commercial to a game or two if you can,” Pitino said. “I think there’s ways that we can all save money to help the athletic department, and that helps the University.”
The NCAA already has banned recruiting travel, with no home visits or campus tours currently allowed. But Fleck still managed to increase his 2020 class to 13 members, behind just Ohio State in the conference rankings. Many of these recruits are committing, sight-unseen.
“Our coaches are doing a great job creatively right now in the virtual market, being able to find a way to be just a little bit different,” Fleck said. “… Going on year four, we’ve had consistency of growth in every area of our program. And now we’ve had the proof to back it up.
“So I think there’s more and more people that are willing to trust you, even if they haven’t seen campus. And I think that’s critical.”
Coming off an 11-2 season has certainly helped that but so has the Gophers’ command of recruiting from a distance. Fleck has been spreading a message that this pandemic, while challenging, also offers a chance to recalibrate and improve.
“This new norm is going to be an even better norm,” Fleck said. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to have even more resources. That just means you have to think better, you have to do something better for a longer period of time.”
“It’s been a very successful April,” Fleck added. “… We’re on our way, and that’s the exciting part.”