Minnesota athletics

Minnesota announces P.J. Fleck as Gophers new head coach

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Officially, it’s officially official.

With speculation ramping up overnight, and with its new head coach’s now-former employer stealing their thunder, Minnesota has confirmed that P.J. Fleck has been hired to take over the Gophers’ football program.  Fleck replaces Tracy Claeys, whose firing Tuesday came weeks after supporting his Gophers players in their planned bowl boycott.

The 36-year-old Fleck becomes the youngest head coach at the Power Five level.  He will be officially introduced at a press conference this afternoon.

“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 Minnesota athletic director Mark 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.”

A 1-11 in his first season at Western Michigan, the first-time head coach guided the Broncos to a pair of 8-5 seasons.  The 2016 season launched Fleck to national prominence as he guided the Broncos to a perfect 13-0 regular season that included a MAC championship.  That earned WMU the Group of Five’s New year’s Six berth, although the perfect season and Cinderella story was spoiled by Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.

Fleck, who played his college football at Northern Illinois, began his coaching career as a grad assistant at Ohio State in 2006 before moving on to his alma mater for three seasons as wide receivers coach.  He served in the same position with both Rutgers (2010-11) and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers before landing in his first head-coaching job in Kalamazoo.

“It’s an honor to coach at Minnesota and be part of the Big Ten conference,” said Fleck. “I want to thank president Eric Kaler, athletic director Mark Coyle and the Board of Regents for this opportunity. I also want to thank Western Michigan, my players and the great fans and city of Kalamazoo for a wonderful four years.

“I look forward to meeting my new players and getting to know them as quickly as possible. I am excited to put together a staff and turn my efforts to recruiting, but also want Gopher fans to know that my wife, Heather, and I and our four children will be visible in the community and we are eager to connect with them. I am ready to go. Ski-U-Mah!”

And, as we wrote earlier and despite his new state being the Land of a Thousand Lakes, Fleck will be leaving his “Row the Boat” mantra as WMU had that phrase trademarked in 2015.

Contractually, his new school confirmed in its release that Fleck will initially be working with a five-year deal.  What they haven’t yet confirmed is that the deal will average $3.5 million annually as has been reported to be the case.

Butch Jones says the most Butch Jones quote of all time

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It’s become a theory among some in the media that Butch Jones is conducting a social experiment or participating some sort of performance art. While that’s the more charitable and fun interpretation, I tend to think the Tennessee head coach is just frighteningly insecure and, thus, fighting for every inch of public approval he can in a likely doomed attempt to keep his job.

That approach has backed him into some verbal corners that, in the long run, make his job more difficult on himself.

I’m talking about the “Champions of Life” quote of last season or, in February, actually stating that he didn’t want 5-star players, he wanted 5-star hearts.

This season has seen Jones go on an odd rant blaming the media for negative recruiting and saying Tennessee had one of the best bye weeks ever last week.

It wasn’t one of the best bye weeks ever, because Tennessee lost at home to South Carolina, 15-9. And you’re not going to believe Jones’s explanation for why Tennessee loss. Scratch that. You will believe his explanation, and that’s the problem here, isn’t it?

Here’s the full quote.

Jones is 33-24 in his four-plus seasons in Knoxville, and 14-21 in the SEC. Those numbers will likely fall to 33-25 and 14-22 after Saturday, when the Vols face No. 1 Alabama. The end is likely near.

And here’s the grand irony of Jones’s everything’s-sunny-here p.r. strategy: his attempt to keep his job by stating blatantly cliche quotes in the state of the obvious will live on much longer than Jones’s actual tenure. Two and three years from now, when Jones is working on someone else’s staff or sitting on his buyout money, the next time an on-the-hot-seat coach says his team won the game everywhere except the scoreboard, we’ll see he Pulled a Butch.

Houston Nutt settles lawsuit with Ole Miss

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Houston Nutt wanted money and an apology from Ole Miss. He’ll have to settle for the second of the two — and a largely different future for the program he used to lead.

It was Nutt’s lawsuit, remember, which exposed the documents that led to a Mississippi State fan finding Hugh Freeze‘s call to a Tampa escort service, which led to Freeze’s resignation, which led to… we have no idea what it will lead to, but, whatever that future is, it will be wildly different than if Freeze was still the Rebels’ coach.

Nutt amended his lawsuit in August to seek simply an apology from Ole Miss, and that apology finally came on Monday.

Each side released their own bitter, short statements.

Nutt will go on, with his apology but without any monetary compensation, while Ole Miss will play out the string of this season, hire a new coach, and move into a future that will be immeasurably different that the one it would have lived had it apologized to Nutt in the first place.

Washington loses LT Adams, CB Miller for the season

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No. 12 Washington’s loss to Arizona State was a disaster on the field — for more reasons than one.

The Huskies not only put their College Football Playoff hopes in danger — they’ll need to sweep their next six games, including a finishing kick that calls for games against No. 22 Stanford, No. 15 Washington State and, presumably, No. 11 USC, two of them away from Seattle. But the road to get there became noticeably more difficult after losing two starters.

Left tackle Trey Adams suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, and cornerback Jordan Miller sustained a broken ankle. Head coach Chris Petersen confirmed Monday that both will be lost for the season. Miller is the third Husky this season to suffer a broken ankle.

The Seattle Times noted that Washington is also without another starting corner in Byron Murphy, who is expected to return later this year from a broken foot. The Huskies are expected to replace Miller with either a pair of true freshmen or a converted running back.

But Adams may be the bigger loss for the Huskies. A junior, Adams was widely expected to be a first round pick in this spring’s NFL Draft. It’s the second straight season Washington has lost a key player in the trenches to a season-ending injury; a year ago, it was linebackers Joe Mathis, who finished one sack away from the team lead despite playing in only seven games, and third-leading tackler Azeem Victor.

Maryland AD Kevin Anderson to take 6-month sabbatical

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Maryland AD Kevin Anderson will not be the Maryland AD for the next six months.

Anderson announced Monday he will take a 6-month sabbatical to focus on “professional development.” That leave of absence will see him remain on his national committees with the NCAA and NACDA, the professional organization of ADs.

It was reported over the weekend that Anderson would be out completely as Maryland’s AD, but those reports were knocked down by the university.

Additionally, Maryland announced that former Georgia AD and current Terps associate AD/CFO Damon Evans will run the department in Anderson’s stead.