The timing of P.J. Fleck's latest contract extension was interesting.

Then he and the Gophers football team lost to a bad Illinois team, and the timing became fascinating.

Fleck's agent is Bryan Harlan. Harlan is good at his job. A week ago he was representing a coach who was 6-2 and 4-1 in the Big Ten. A coach who had beaten Nebraska three consecutive times, was winning Big Ten games at an impressive rate and who, with a strong finish to the 2021 season, had a chance to win the Big Ten West and secure a second impressive bowl invitation in three seasons.

Why would Harlan and Fleck sign an extension before the Illinois game, a probable victory? Why would they sign an extension before Fleck had a chance to increase his leverage with a strong finish and potentially another bowl victory?

Maybe Harlan and Fleck weren't all that optimistic about this stretch run. Maybe they recognized the flaws in what was expected to be a quality, veteran team. Maybe they were afraid that their leverage would be damaged throughout the month of November.

Now that Fleck is at least tenuously tied to Minnesota for the long haul — the extension added two years to his deal and moved his salary up to $5 million per season starting next year — perhaps the question we should be asking is this:

If he can't win big this year, with a senior quarterback who had a remarkable season as a sophomore, and the biggest, most experienced offensive line Minnesota has had in recent memory, is the future as bright as his new $35 million contract would suggest?

Fleck is 9-7 since winning the Outback Bowl, including losses to Bowling Green and Bowling Orange (Illinois). He has raised expectations for his program to the point where losses this month to Iowa and Wisconsin would be disappointing.

The biggest concern for Gophers fans has to be that in 2019 Tanner Morgan played like an NFL draft pick, and has since regressed.

He reminds me of 2009 Adam Weber.

Remember? Weber played like a star for the Gophers for two years, then worked with Jedd Fisch as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2009.

Working with Fisch, Weber threw 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a junior. Before and after Fisch, Weber threw 59 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.

Now Fisch is the head coach at Arizona. His record is 1-9.

In 2019, Morgan completed 66% of his passes for 30 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Since, he has completed 59% of his passes for 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

A good upperclassman quarterback should be able to shred college defenses. Morgan has gone from a game-manager as a freshman to a star as a sophomore to a struggling game-manager as a junior and senior. That's not the arc of a well-coached player.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. has presided over Morgan's regression.

Before coming to Minnesota, Sanford was the offensive coordinator at Utah State for one year (2019). The year before he arrived, current Packers quarterback Jordan Love threw 32 touchdown passes and six interceptions and compiled a passer rating of 158.3 as a sophomore. As a junior under Sanford, Love threw 20 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions for a passer rating of 129.1.

The Packers drafted Love in the first round after that season, presumably feeling that they could coach Love better than he was coached in his final year in college.

Fleck was a good coach at Western Michigan. He has been a good coach at Minnesota. I think he likes it here because expectations are low and he can play the part of savior when he beats a bad Nebraska team.

If he left for a more established program, he would have to win without making excuses.

He won big in 2019 in part because of holdovers such as Tyler Johnson and Antoine Winfield Jr. He is winning this year because of that massive offensive line.

To win in the future, he's going to have to prove he can rebuild the offensive line and can get more out of his quarterbacks.

Fleck will not accomplish that if his offensive coordinator doesn't improve or isn't changed.