Tracy Claeys could be gone as the Gophers football coach next week, no matter the outcome of the Holiday Bowl game with Washington State on Tuesday night. There has been a furious response from university customers after they learned the details of a school-endorsed report on an alleged sexual assault by players in September.
There are fears in the athletic department that the season-ticket renewal rate could fall under 70 percent unless a change is made, and that would follow a lousy 2016 at the gate in Claeys’ first season.
High and mighty though university President Eric Kaler will sound if he fires Claeys, it will be a business decision. In view of that, I’m convinced the Gophers will go for a high-energy salesman, and that would be P.J. Fleck, the 36-year-old coach of Western Michigan.
The timing would be perfect for Fleck. He gets to coach Western Michigan (13-0) against Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2, and then take advantage of this second chance to get out of the Mid-American Conference for a job in a Power Five conference.
Fleck overplayed his hand at the end of the regular season, turning down a chance to land at Purdue in favor of an attempt to get the job at Oregon. But he didn’t get an interview at Oregon — allegedly because of a lack of experience and the idea that his “act’’ wouldn’t be a fit with boosters Phil Knight and Pat Kilkenny (the Ducks’ wealthy former athletic director).
It’s an act with the incessant motivational rhetoric that was offered by the failed Tim Brewster during his 45 games as the Gophers coach. For instance: Fleck scripts a pregame speech and believes that the energy he offers in that has a considerable impact on that day’s performance.
The No. 1 cliché Fleck offers is “row the boat.’’ He even makes his players chant that.
The difference between Fleck and Brewster could be that he actually can coach and not merely spew.
Pete Najarian has been a TV analyst at several Western Michigan games and said: “I think P.J. has the potential to be another Lou Holtz.’’
Plus Three from Patrick
Why would Fleck "take" the Minnesota job?
• The U is constructing $170 million in athletic facilities, with 60 percent dedicated to football.
• It’s the Big Ten West; eminently winnable as long as Nebraska has the uninspiring Mike Riley as coach.
• MAC coaches move up when they can. Some work (Jerry Kill, to a degree) and more don’t (Tim Beckman, Darrell Hazell).
Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.