Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck is a giant killer. Minnesota defeated Penn State, 31 -26 in a Big Ten, November thriller they weren’t supposed to win. And his post-game, locker room speech to his players was a Sermon on the Mount type of message that will preach for years to come.
Coach Fleck’s speech is why I am an instant Minnesota Gopher fan. I don’t know much about him but I do know that if I played college football, I’d want to play for someone like him, if not play for HIM. We all need motivation and affirmation and maturation. And this coach and this team provided all of that and some for all of us who believe that things will, and must and just have to get better.
Here’s some of what Coach Fleck said after the big win:
This is what we can become. I’m sure there was (sic) some people on the final drive who said, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ Gotta let go of all of that. Fifty years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, we’ve got to change at some point. This team’s proven that. Does that mean we’re going to win ’em all? No. But they’re doing a lot of special things that you can keep building on to make your culture stronger, and your program stronger, and make it more of a national brand.”
Note to file:as Coach Fleck taught us, “We’ve got to change at some point.” And if we change, things will change. That’s how it works. It might be bad and you might be sad, but things have got to change at some point. They’ve got to. Trouble don’t last always. Success is failure turned inside out. Weeping may endure for a night, but God promised us that joy will come in the morning. Amen and amen.
“Now, Minnesota is 9-0 for the first time since 1904, and Fleck has won six consecutive games as an underdog. And Coach Fleck has a big-game quarterback in Tanner Morgan, who went 18-for-20 for 339 yards and three touchdowns against Penn State. Morgan planned to play for Fleck at Western Michigan but switched to Minnesota when Fleck took over the Gophers. He believes in Fleck. You probably should, too.” https://herald-review.com/sports/college/illini/things-we-learned-about-big-ten-football-after-week-including/article_9c6e3821-b794-59f7-8821-296b124f77f4.html
The third-year head coach did not mince words about what the victory meant for his Gophers team.
“This team’s been through so much — on the field, off the field — through the last three years,” he said. “This team has heart. It has courage. It has character. It’s got an unbelievable culture. They found a way. The whole season’s been highs, lows, but we found a way to win and that was the biggest thing. We’ve been telling people, it’s like — we just find a way to win. They love each other. It’s a special group of young men.”
With the triumph, Minnesota’s resume is padded as the home stretch of the regular season continues Nov. 16 at Iowa, Nov. 23 at Northwestern and Nov. 30 against Wisconsin in the chase for the Big Ten West — and perhaps, now officially, the College Football Playoff. https://247sports.com/Article/PJ-Fleck-Minnesota-Golden-Gophers-football-coach-Penn-State-Nittany-Lions-postgame-interview-James-Franklin-138277618/
The 31-26 victory over No. 4 Penn State marked No. 17 Minnesota’s first at home victory against a top-five opponent since 1977, when the Gophers knocked off top-ranked Michigan three years before Fleck was born. Minnesota is 9-0 for the first time since 1904, and 6-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1961. The Gophers validated a start that many questioned and showed they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation.
“We’ve done a lot of things we haven’t done in a while,” senior defensive end Carter Coughlin said. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck had envisioned a scene like the one that took place Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, as Minnesota students and fans filled the field to celebrate another set of milestones
The win set off a raucous celebration from the sellout crowd. Minnesota players ran to the Penn State sideline to collect the Governor’s Victory Bell trophy, which the Nittany Lions had held since 2016. Students streamed onto the field as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” played. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who set a stadium record with 203 receiving yards — the second-highest total in team history — couldn’t remember a thing afterward, saying only, “A bunch of people. That’s it.”
When Fleck entered the locker room, he jumped into his players’ arms and crowd surfed — a tradition he started while coaching Western Michigan, which went 13-1 with a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2016. He then awarded the game ball to the entire state, giving the ball to university president Joan Gabel, with hope that it eventually reaches Gov. Tim Walz.
“That’s why you take a job,” Fleck said. “That was the whole vision, to be able to have that field swarmed on a top-five team in the country, and to put us undefeated. And when everybody told me, ‘Don’t take the job, don’t take the job.’ My life is usually about, ‘Don’t do that, don’t do that. OK, I’ll do that. That sounds like a good job for me.’
“That was the vision.”
Fleck, 38, began the week by agreeing to a new seven-year, $33.25 million contract with Minnesota. He had been mentioned as a candidate for the coaching vacancy at Florida State, and likely would have been a candidate for other openings in the coming weeks.
But Fleck now appears committed to Minnesota, where he’s 21-13 in three seasons. Fleck’s record through his first 34 games with the Golden Gophers mirrors that of Murray Warmath (20-12-2), who led Minnesota to its most recent national championship in 1960.
“To see in the locker room the former players brought a tear to my eye,” Fleck said. “We’ve had seven head coaches in around 14 years. It’s hard to gain traction with former players. Everybody’s connected to someone else, and we feel like, ‘I played for that guy.’ You played for our Minnesota. That’s who you played for, and I just get to represent that.
“Part of the reason why we signed the contract was we want to bring everybody back. We want everybody to be like tonight every single game. We can create some type of dynasty, you can create some type of cultural sustainability, because your alums are the most important part of what we do.”
Coughlin didn’t know if fans would rush the field. He sought out fellow senior Kamal Martin, a starting linebacker who couldn’t play because of injury, and his roommates.
“It was just amazing to see the excitement on everybody’s face, how together Minnesota is right now,” said Coughlin, a native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who was already in the program when Fleck arrived in 2017. “It’s really special.”
The Gophers have never appeared in the Big Ten championship game and most recently won the conference in 1967.