MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The University of Minnesota announced Friday that it has reached a deal with former Western Michigan University coach P.J. Fleck to coach the football team.
Athletics Director Mark Coyle says the 36-year-old agreed to a five-year term with the university.
“P.J. is a proven winner and a strong leader. He’s built a unique, positive culture that gets the best out of his students on the field and in the classroom,” said Coyle. “His infectious energy and passion make him a terrific coach and dynamic recruiter. I am excited he will be leading the Gophers for years to come.”
On Friday morning, Fleck released this statement, confirming the deal:
“It is with mixed emotions that I announce my decision to leave Western Michigan University for the head football coaching job at the University of Minnesota. Although I am grateful for and excited about this opportunity, this was a very difficult decision to make; one that involved much introspection and prayer. Heather and I love Kalamazoo and the Western Michigan University family of staff, students, alumni and fans. I simply feel called to take on this new challenge and to start a new chapter in my family’s journey. I am proud of what we have accomplished together in Kalamazoo. I feel we have left WMU football in a much better place than when we arrived here. That was our mission. I’ll always be your fan and friend. RTB PJ”
Fleck will likely receive $3 million a year at the university, which is the average salary for a Big Ten coach.
The news came amid a controversy surrounding 10 players on the team who were recently suspended amid allegations of sexual assault. Their teammates attempted to overturn the suspension with a boycott of all football activities — including the 2016 Holiday Bowl — but backed off days later.
The Gophers went on to win the Holiday Bowl 17-12 in an upset over Washington State. The university’s athletics department then fired head coach Tracy Claeys earlier this week.
Fleck led the Broncos to an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl just three days ago.
At an introductory press conference Friday, Fleck repeatedly emphasized that he came to Minnesota to change the culture, but not the tradition. He said he and Coyle share a vision of bringing the Gophers to a national championship.
“I’m going to promise you a lot because that’s the way I life my life,” Fleck said.
“The University of Minnesota is my dream.”
Fleck also talked about his connection with former Gopher football coach Jerry Kill, who hired Fleck at Northern Illinois University.
“Coach Kill told me, ‘Tell them you’re a Kill guy.’ And I’m a Kill guy,” he said.
The new head football coach acknowledged the difficulties the program faces, but said he relishes the opportunity before him.
“My entire life has been about running into the fire, not away from the fire,” he said. “I eat difficult conversations for breakfast. For every reason not to take a job, that’s why I took it.”
Fleck was asked about the recent suspension of 10 players connected with a sexual assault investigation, but refused to comment.
“I really don’t have anything to comment on it because I don’t know much about it,” he said.
Fleck held a meeting with student-athletes Friday and said while there was some apprehension from the players, he looks forward to leading them.
“Guys, you did not pick me,” he told the team. “You did not pick me, but I picked you.”
Moving forward, Fleck said, his focus is on turning Ski-U-Mah and the University of Minnesota into a national brand.
“I don’t want people to have to look up Ski-U-Mah on Wikipedia,” he said.
“When you watch Gopher football going forward, it will be different. I am different.”