The Minnesota Gophers hired P.J. Fleck away from Western Michigan to be their head coach. Fleck is widely considered to be one of the best up-and-coming coaches in college football. But just who is Fleck? FOX Sports North gives you a little background on the new Gophers boss.
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Fleck played at Northern Illinois from 1999-2003 and finished with 179 receptions for 2,162 yards, which both still rank in the top-five in school history. His 77 catches as a senior are second-most in a single-season at NIU. Fleck's 87 career punt returns remain the school record.
He played in the NFL
Undersized at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Fleck signed with San Francisco as an undrafted free agent. He was on the 49ers' practice squad until being signed to the active roster for the final game of the 2004 season against New England. He recorded one tackle on special teams and also returned a punt 10 yards. Unfortunately, he was injured in preseason the following year and never played another down in the NFL.
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Fountain of youth
Fleck just turned 36 years old this past November. He is now the youngest coach in a Power 5 conference surpassing Iowa State's Matt Campbell, who is exactly one year older. Fleck isn't the youngest head coach in FBS, however. That honor goes to Memphis' Mike Norvell, who is 35.
Turning around Western Michigan
Fleck was hired after Western Michigan went 4-8 in 2012. The Broncos won only one game in 2013, but Fleck's ability to recruit quickly took hold as Western Michigan won eight games in 2014 -- the second-best turnaround in MAC history -- and eight in 2015, where he led the Broncos to their first victory over a ranked opponent and first bowl win in program history. This past season, Fleck led Western Michigan to the Cotton Bowl after going undefeated in the regular season and winning the MAC title game. Fleck was one of five finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award, presented to the coach of the year.
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The 'row the boat' mantra
You can read the full meaning of Fleck's well-known saying in this 2013 article. But the gist of it is having everyone working together not knowing the future but being able to see the past. Fleck intended for it to bring together the community, not only at Western Michigan but also in Kalamazoo. It seemed to have worked. Fleck has cleverly used this saying in other facets. A sign in the Western Michigan locker room displaying ROWING - with "WIN" accentuated. The coach has also been spotted wearing shirts with "ROW" set off in such words as "GROW" and also has sported "ROWER" with "WE" set off. Don't expect Fleck to use this saying at Minnesota, however, as Western Michigan owns the trademark.
He gives great speeches
Fleck has been known to pump up players before games with some inspiring words. You can see some of them here, here, here and here.