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.