Without football this fall, Fleck encourages Gophers to ‘Row the Boat’ and focus on the present

"Right now, 30 for 30, every player has said the Big Ten has made the right decision," Fleck said at a press conference Friday.

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Head Coach PJ Fleck leads the team out of the tunnel at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 9. The Gophers defeated Penn State 31-26 to bring their record to 9-0. A first since 1904.

Nolan O'Hara

Row the boat. 

That’s been the mantra of Gophers’ head coach P.J. Fleck for nearly a decade. Fleck coined “Row the Boat” in 2011 after the death of his son, using it as a call to persevere through adversity and to never give up. It’s a mantra he continues to use during the coronavirus pandemic that caused the Big Ten Conference to postpone the fall football season

“This is what ‘Row the Boat’ is all about … You got to keep your oar in the water and just keep rowing,” he said. 

Speaking with the media for the first time since the Big Ten’s decision via Zoom, Fleck said the conference made the right call and said he was grateful for the leadership of University president Joan Gabel, athletics director Mark Coyle and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren. 

Without football in the fall, the team continues to move forward at a snail’s pace. The Big Ten hopes to reschedule its football season in the spring and as the Gophers prepare for that possibility, Fleck stressed the importance of continuing to listen to medical professionals, just like the conference did in making its decision on fall sports. 

“We’re going to follow the Big Ten guidelines and the protocols and the safety protocols from the doctors, from the medical professionals,” Fleck said. “And we’re just going to continue to take the next right step here, and that’s all we can continue to do.” 

As reports of the cancellation flooded Twitter prior to the Big Ten’s announcement, many student-athletes were outspoken advocates of a fall season, spreading the hashtag #WeWantToPlay. At a time when student-athletes are trying to make their voices heard – advocating for a fall season, social justice and discussing the possibility of a players’ union – Fleck is taking time to meet with each of his players individually. 

Fleck is asking for their thoughts on the Big Ten’s decision. He’s spoken to a third of the team so far. 

“I’ve asked every single one of our players four questions … The last question was, ‘What do you think about the Big Ten’s decision?'” Fleck said. “Every single person that I’ve talked to, 30 for 30 like the ESPN show, right now, 30 for 30, every player has said the Big Ten has made the right decision.” 

While so far his team has agreed with the Big Ten’s decision, it doesn’t minimize the disappointment student-athletes are feeling. Fleck is encouraging his team to keep rowing the boat, focus on the now and continue to train hard for the day football returns. 

“Our slogan in January was ‘better for longer.’ Nothing by coincidence. Whoever does this pandemic better for longer is going to win,” he said. 

Whether the next Minnesota football season is in the winter, spring or next year, Fleck will have his team prepared to pick up where it left off. 

“What we’ve done is analyzed where we are in the season and knowing there will be another season. At some point, they’re going to open those gates and we’re going to run through. And whatever comes through those gates we got to be ready for. So, we’ve got to start preparing now.”