P.J. Fleck gave Minnesotans a glimpse on Friday as to why he’s become such a polarizing figure in college football.
Fleck’s high energy and ability to inspire were on display as he laid out his vision to change the culture of Gophers football and return the program to the glory days of the 1960s.
Western Michigan’s rise to Mid-American Conference champions and a nationally ranked program were fueled by Fleck’s unique personality and coaching style.
National media outlets followed him to Kalamazoo, Mich., to tell his story and his “Row the Boat” message has spread across America.
Here is what has been written about the Gophers new football coach during his rise to become the youngest coach in the Power Five conferences:
Sports Illustrated wrote Fleck might be a coach for the millennial generation:
Fleck, 34, is the youngest and most intriguing coach in college football. He looks different than most of his peers; his good looks and close-cropped hair give him a boy-band appearance, and he occasionally wears bow ties on the sideline. He sounds different when he uses a microphone at practice, exuding all the energy of an over-caffeinated aerobics instructor. Everything about what Fleck has done at Western Michigan feels different, as back-to-back top-ranked MAC recruiting classes (according to Rivals.com) have turned Kalamazoo into a trendy mid-major destination. … Is Fleck a flash in the pan or a glimpse of the future? No one is quite sure. Deadspin has mocked Fleck as the "Swaggiest Bro-Coach to Have Ever Swagged," and rivals have belittled his slogans and pointed out his lack of coordinator experience. But NFL scouts marvel at the crispness, pace and efficiency of Broncos practices and note that Western Michigan has more draft-caliber prospects than Michigan. Virginia Tech men's basketball coach Buzz Williams became so captivated by Fleck that he flew up to spend a day with him this spring.
Land of 10 wrote not even Jim Harbaugh beats the new Gophers coach on sizzle:
Of course he won the news conference. Putting a microphone in front of P.J. Fleck is like putting an easel in front of Picasso, a guitar in front of Hendrix. As a rallier of men and author of sound bites, Minnesota’s newest football coach makes Winston Churchill look demure. Brick walls run through him. … Minnesota gets a star. The Big Ten gets a pulpit master, a mile-a-minute quote machine and a shot of caffeine injected into one of the sleepier way stations on the league map. Jim Harbaugh with less gravitas and more Red Bull. The short version of P.J. Fleck is that he comes off, at first blush, as Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s attempt to graft Jim Tressel and Pat Fitzgerald into one coaching body. As the youngest head football coach at a Power Five program, he understands the power of social media, and the willingness to throw yourself in front of it, better than most.
ESPN wrote how it was Fleck’s energy that had Western Michigan surging and how he was quickly checking off items on his bucket list:
Personal and career goals are split into two different categories on the list, with everything written in red marker. Check mark upon check mark has been scribbled in pen or pencil in all the years since, including next to the first objective under the career section: Be the youngest head coach in Division I-A. … The list shows he has seen the Washington monuments, spent a Christmas in New York and has taken his kids to Disney World. He has yet to learn how to ski or meet the President of the United States, although those both seem like much less of an achievement than the biggest stat that has driven his Broncos to their perfect start.
Bleacher Report wrote about the unknown football coach, Fleck, who could save your program:
The man who can save your college football program walked into his first head coaching job determined to create expectations and pressure where neither had existed in decades. Then he won one lousy game in his first season. …Three years later, the man who can save your college football program began this season with expectations and pressure now staring him in the face. He didn't lose a single regular-season game. … How did he do it? … If you really want to know, here's what may be the defining moment—a moment with an irrefutable correlation to the building, winning and sustaining at the heart of Fleck's mission. Less than a week before the season opener this year, two freshmen from his heralded recruiting class were arrested on armed-robbery charges. Fleck blamed himself. He didn't blame young adults for making dumb mistakes. Didn't use the dreaded and tired "individual decision" crutch like most everyone associated with collegiate sports. He got rid of the kids and took full responsibility for having had them there in the first place: "I recruited them," Fleck told Bleacher Report recently. "It's my fault for bringing them to our university." … Don't think that defining moment wasn't heard around the college football world. One Power Five athletic director—at a school generally considered one of the top 20 programs in the nation—said he immediately began researching Fleck. "It didn't take long to realize he's unique," the Power Five AD said. "He's way ahead of the norm."
Fleck in November wrote a piece on The Player’s Tribune about the turning point for his program by using 10 words to ask them “When are you going to be tired of being average?”:
I didn’t say it was the best speech I’ve given at Western Michigan. But yes, it was effective. We came back to win that game, and then five straight after that. Fast-forward to today and we’re undefeated and in the midst of the best season in school history. I think the reason why that speech stands out now is because it’s a great example of why we are successful. We didn’t turn it around because of any individual coach or player. We became elite because we decided that we were going to be elite. It’s funny, since our team has started winning I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “Coach, what’s the secret?” They’re always disappointed when I tell them that there is no secret. It’s very simple: Just treat people the right way. If you start there, a lot of other stuff will fall into place. You see, I don’t ask my players for their very best only on game day. I push them to hold themselves to that standard every single day. That’s how you row the boat.
If you can't get enough Fleck, here is more reading:
P.J. Fleck is the perfect choice to right the reeling Minnesota program and proves he’s more than energy and cliches, from Fox Sports.
A coach with both oars in the water ... rowing in right direction, from the L.A. Times.
Fleck has brought senses of excitement, from the Washington Post.
Fleck explains his 'Row The Boat' mantra and hopes it will define the program and his tenure, from MLive.com.
Finally, make sure you read our Joe Christensen's piece: With new Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck, 'it's not an act.'