P.J. Fleck keeps focus on culture in first year

The Gophers are 5-6 with one more game to play in Fleck’s first year at Minnesota.

Head coach P.J. Fleck offers words of advice to his players in between plays at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 28.

Jack Rodgers, Daily File Photo

Head coach P.J. Fleck offers words of advice to his players in between plays at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 28.

Jack Warrick

Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck started his head coaching career with a 1-11 record with Western Michigan in 2013. Four years later, his team went 12-0 in the regular season and won their first MAC conference championship since 1988.

With one regular season game remaining in his first year at Minnesota, has this Gophers season been similar to Fleck’s first year with Western Michigan?

“We have four more wins than my first year at Western Michigan, but I’m not concerned about that,” Fleck said. “What I’m concerned about is: where is the culture? How is it being laid? How is it being received? What are the issues within the program? What do we have to clean up?”

Fleck came to Minnesota from his first head coaching job at Western Michigan following the firing of Tracy Claeys and a sexual assault scandal that left the program shook.

Fleck’s 5-6 record with one more game to play against No. 5 Wisconsin, isn’t spectacular by any standards, especially considering last year’s Gophers team finished with a 9-4 record including a bowl win with a different head coach. 

Fleck has done the year one culture change of a football team before, so he can remember what it was like when he was building the program at Western Michigan now that he has the top coaching job at Minnesota.

“I wouldn’t say it makes it easier,” Fleck said. “Because nothing’s ever easy when you do something like this. But it also gives you the ability to reflect back to at least have some personal experience to go back to.”

Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca came along with Fleck to Minnesota this year. He was the offensive coordinator of Western Michigan with Fleck from 2013. The team went 1-11 and his offense scored on average 17 points per game in 2013. He was there for four years with Fleck and in the last season there, the team went 13-1 with his offense scoring 42 points per game on average.

“Actually to be honest with you, it’s been easier. The players this year have been much more embracing of it,” Ciarrocca said. “I wish we had better results, believe me. But the process, their work, I’ve got no complaints about.”

Senior defensive back Adekunle Ayinde said Fleck is different from the other head coaches he’s had. Fleck puts more emphasis on helping players grow off the field.

“The different things, like the aspect of serving and giving,” Ayinde said. “We’ve done it before, but the emphasis that [Fleck’s] put on it.”

The 2018 class of Gophers recruits will be Fleck’s first class his coaching staff recruited at Minnesota. Fleck’s 2018 class is ranked 36th in the nation and seventh in the Big Ten by 247Sports. All 24 recruits are ranked three-star athletes.

The new Fleck culture seems like it is here to stay as Minnesota’s athletic director Mark Coyle gave Fleck a contract extension that goes until 2023 on Wednesday. When he was given the job in January, Fleck’s contract was for five years.