StaTuesday: Gophers head football coaches in their first year

P.J. Fleck will try to become the third coach in Gopher football history to lead his team to a bowl game in his first season.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

In case you somehow missed the news, P.J. Fleck is the new head coach of the Minnesota Gophers.

What are the expectations? Well, looking at the past few hires for Minnesota, Fleck should have one of the more successful debuts.

Of the past five Gophers head coaches — dating back to 1992 — only one had a winning record in his first year, and that was the recently fired Tracy Claeys (we aren’t including his time as interim head coach, but he had a losing record after taking over for Jerry Kill, so ….).

Here’s how the last five Gophers head coaches fared:


Jim Wacker, 1992

Gophers in previous season: 2-9

Wacker’s first year: 2-9, 2-6 Big Ten

Wacker joined the Gophers in 1992 following a nine-year run at Texas Christian. Described as a “pied piper with a whistle” by the Chicago Tribune, Wacker’s fun-loving demeanor may have lifted the Gophers’ spirits, but their play didn’t improve. Wacker’s Gophers edged Illinois 18-17 in the fourth game of the year, before picking up their second win in the season finale, beating Iowa 28-13.


Glen Mason, 1997

Gophers in previous season: 4-7

Mason’s first year: 3-9 overall, 1-7 Big Ten

The Gophers won just three games in Mason’s first season, steamrolling Iowa State 53-29 and edging Memphis 20-17, before losing their next seven games. Mason’s Gophers salvaged a 24-12 win over Indiana in Week 11, before being shut out 31-0 in their season finale to Iowa.

More P.J. Fleck coverage:

Tim Brewster, 2007

Gophers in previous season: 6-7

Brewster’s first year: 1-11 overall, 0-8 Big Ten

Despite lofty claims in his introductory press conference, Brewster guided the Gophers to a forgettable season in 2007. The Gophers beat Miami (Ohio) in triple overtime after a fourth-quarter collapse. They went on to lose a 49-48 thriller to Northwestern in double overtime, but went winless the rest of the way.


Jerry Kill, 2011

Gophers in previous season: 3-9

Kill’s first year: 3-9, 2-6 Big Ten

Kill took over for Brewster midway through the 2010 season, leaving Northern Illinois after losing in the MAC championship game but before the Huskies’ bowl game. He guided the Gophers to just three wins in his first season, but did capture the Floyd of Rosedale with a comeback win over Iowa in Minnesota’s eighth game. Kill’s first season also included a loss to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.


Tracy Claeys, 2016

Gophers in previous season: 6-7

Claeys’ first year: 9-4 overall, 5-4 Big Ten; won Holiday Bowl

After serving as interim head coach following Jerry Kill’s abrupt retirement, Claeys only season at the helm began with a three-game winning streak. His Gophers struggled against the Big Ten’s heavyweights, falling to Nebraska and Wisconsin, but posted convincing wins over Maryland, Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern, while also eking out a slim win over Rutgers. Their upset win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl was the first time that a Gophers coach has won back-to-back bowl games in the program’s history.


Since 1900, only six coaches have had a winning record in their first year as Minnesota head coach. Before Claeys, it hadn’t happened since 1954.

Here’s a listing of every Minnesota head coach’s first season since 1900, along with their eventual career record.

Tracy Claeys 9-4 5-4 Holiday 2015-16 11-8*
Jerry Kill 3-9 2-6 N/A 2011-15 29-29
Tim Brewster 1-11 0-8 N/A 2007-10 15-30
Glen Mason 3-9 1-7 N/A 1997-2006 64-57
Jim Wacker 2-9 2-6 N/A 1992-96 16-39
John Gutekunst 6-6 5-3 Liberty 1986-91 29-36-2
Lou Holtz 4-7 3-6 N/A 1984-85 10-12
Joe Salem 4-6-1 3-5-1 N/A 1979-83 19-35-1
Cal Stoll 4-7 4-4 N/A 1972-78 39-39
Murray Warmath 7-2 4-2 N/A 1954-71 87-78-7
Wes Fesler 2-6-1 1-4-1 N/A 1951-53 10-13-4
George Hauser 5-4 3-3 N/A 1942-44 15-11-1
Bernie Bierman 5-3 2-3 N/A 1932-41 93-35-6
Herbert “Fritz” Crisler 3-4-1 1-3 N/A 1930-31 10-7-1
Clarence Spears 5-2-1 1-1-1 N/A 1925-29 28-9-3
William Spaulding 3-3-1 2-3-1 N/A 1922-24 11-7-4
Henry L. Williams 10-0-2 N/A N/A 1900-21 136-33-11

* — includes record as interim head coach