Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck: “Find A Way To Win!”

Minnesota Coach PJ Fleck
Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck after defeating Penn State 31 – 26: “We’ve got to change at some point. I think this team’s proven that, as we continue to go into the future, we don’t have to keep saying (negative) things. . . ”

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.”

Amen Brother.

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.

Go Gophers!

Stephen Strasburg: Give Your Team Another Chance At Victory

strasburg-game-6-ws

I TOLD you! I told you the Washington Nationals would win! And wow, what a way to win.

The Washington Nationals won the World Series because Stephen Strasburg, the Series MVP, gave his team another chance at victory.

In April, no one, and I mean no one picked them to go this far, much less win the title the way they did. Going into the playoffs, nobody gave them any respect. And against the astronomical pitching staff of the Houston Astros, there was no way that these plucky, happy go lucky, baseball diamond darlings could pull out and pull off an upset victory. And yet they did it. They actually did it! They made it all the way to a come from behind win in Game 7 of the Fall Classic. And now here they stand as the champions of the world.

It took chemistry and comrade and faith and fight, and conviction and compulsion. Yes it took all that, and some. This Nationals team is the underdog of underdogs, the Cinderella of Cinderella’s and the David of David’s. They upset the favorites; they came back from way back and they turned their 19-31 season all the way around. And they turned a 3-2 World Series deficit around. AND they won all four games ON THE ROAD.

It was almost like a dream that has never come true. Because it’s never been done before — ever. This is the stuff that legends are made of.

The Nats improbable playoff journey was a beauty to behold. This team won the wild card game by coming from behind, then they beat the Dodgers, the best team in the National League, by coming from behind, and then, they beat the best team in baseball, the Houston Astros, by . . . wait for it . . . coming from behind and winning the last two games of the World Series on the road. What they’ve done deserves all of the credit in the world.

Most importantly, Stephen Strasburg went 5-0 with a ridiculous ERA of 1.98 in the post season. And if that wasn’t enough, in Game 6, Stras gave it all he had and turned in the performance of a lifetime. He pitched the game of his life in hostile Houston when his team needed him most. Down three games to two, Strasburg stood in and stood tall and kept the Astros from winning and gave the Nats another chance at victory. And that’s what we all need: we all need another chance at victory.

Here’s what Sam Fortier of the Washington Post had to say about the World Series MVP:

“They might not have been here without him. Strasburg shoved all postseason, shedding the fragile label he once bore and showcasing a reinvented approach that reflected his passage into becoming a veteran. He carried this team through three elimination games and delivered one of the best elimination-game starts in recent World Series history. In Game 6, he was the first pitcher to allow two or fewer runs while going 8⅓ innings since Curt Schilling in 1993.” An incredible performance from someone with high hopes hanging all over his career, and he delivered in the clutch.

So congratulations to Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals, the 2019 World Series Champions.

Back In Philly, “Cholly” Is A Hit

Charlie Manuel

“Cholly” Manuel is back home in Philly and he’s making a big and immediate difference.

Charlie, aka “Cholly”  Manuel, will be beloved in Philly forever because he won us a World Series as manager of the Phillies in 2008 and led the team to five consecutive postseason appearances from 2007-11. In nine seasons as Phils’ skipper, he went 780-636, a .551 winning percentage, accumulating move victories than any manager in team history. And before he left town Cholly said “I’ll be Back!” Well not quite, but it makes for a good story.

Now Cholly is baaaaaack! He’s back as the Phillies hitting coach, replacing  John Mallee. Here’s what Ethan Witte and John Stolnis from SB Nation, a Philadelphia Phillies community, had to say about it all:

“That John Mallee has been replaced isn’t too much of a shock. Something had to be done as there was such a malaise surrounding the team, especially the hitters. The fact that Charlie Manuel is tasked with taking the reigns is the shocker. We’ve all known how much Cholly loves hitting. That the team knows this and recognizes not only his expertise, but realizes that something had to be done is absolutely huge. However, the questions this decision raises are fascinating.

Manuel is the most successful manager in franchise history and is a beloved figure in the city. How will he work with the current embattled manager, Gabe Kapler? Will Kapler feel threatened? Will Manuel get credit for turning the season around if the offense improves and the team starts winning? Is it smart for the Phils to turn to a more old-school baseball figure in an era when most teams are hiring young baseball minds?”

These are all good questions. The jury still might be out but the early election returns are in: in the Phillies last 4 games they’ve scored 30 runs, and they scored 11 against they’re old teammate, Cole Hammels. Not too shabby.

Yes, Cholly is back, and what a comeback. And talk about a turnaround! 

So, even at the tender old age of 75, Cholly is making a difference. And that means that you and I, at whatever younger age we are than Cholly, can make a difference too.

The Toronto Raptors: Oh Canada!

Raptors Logo. 2

Ok. So the Raptors ripped the reigning NBA royals a new one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear you all the way over here. 

Yes the Raptors won Game One. No, the Warriors did not look like the Warriors. Yes, it was the first NBA Finals game outside of the good ‘ole USofA.  No, Durant did not play. And yes, the fans were pumped and primed and the energy in the building was crazy. And no, the Warriors did not match the Raptors’ intensity. So there; a Game One win for the home team.

But just who were those guys in the home whites? Kawhi turned in a pedestrian performance as he ONLY scored 23 points. But the rest of the Raptors? Who were they? And where did that come from?  I mean a guy named Pascal Siakam scored 32 Points!  Thirty-Two points! On 14 for 17 shooting! Seriously?  That guy shot 82.3% from the floor?!  Are you serious? In other words, that guy, that guy who has a 10 point career scoring average, took 17 shots and missed three.  That only happens once in a never. Is this a dream or what?

Ok — let me try this explanation another way, as I try to lower my blood pressure – breath, breath . . . . Pascal Siakam just played in his first NBA Finals game.  His FIRST. Siakam is averaging 18 points per game in the playoffs and he averaged a very respectable 16.7 for the season.  But his unexpected 32 points in Game One was the most points in an NBA Finals debut since Kevin Durant had 36 for Oklahoma City in 2012, and it made Siakam the first player to score 30 or more on at least 80 percent shooting in a finals game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2004.

Those two players, Durant and Shaq, were top-two draft picks, as were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan, the other players since 1970 with 30 points in an NBA Finals Game 1 within their first three pro seasons.

So, do you believe in miracles?  This guy from Cameroon, who was going to be a priest, turned to basketball and now turns in the performance of his life when his team needed it most. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. As I watched Game One in disbelief, I realized that it appears that we may, just may, have an upset in the making?

While I’m pulling hard for “my” Warriors, it appears that the team from up North has all of the farm animals lined up to make a dress for the ball.  The newest entry on the long list of sports Cinderella’s thinks she can dance her way into the prince’s heart, and the pumpkin is ready and waiting outside. That’s the pumpkin that just got turned into a riding carriage. We’ll see.

Here’s how Jackie MacMullan from ESPN saw it:

“TORONTO — When you are champions, you stick with what got you here. For the Golden State Warriors, the formula in these 2019 playoffs had been fairly transparent: identify the best player on the opposing team — see James Harden and Damian Lillard — and harangue him into a night of frustration and disappointment.

Thus, the blueprint against the Toronto Raptors was to reduce Kawhi Leonard’s basketball life to misery, or at the very least considerable discomfort. Blitz him, double him, triple him if necessary, force him to give up the ball and dare the others to beat you.

It was a sound strategy on paper — except the “others” were not only expecting it, they were aiming to exploit it. So, it was a collection of “complementary” Raptors who vaulted Toronto to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals 118-109 in a raucous Scotiabank Arena, delivering a roundhouse right to a team that so often has seemed invincible.

On a night when Leonard, who had been the most transcendent player in the playoffs, was a mere mortal, players such as Pascal Siakam happily filled the void. Siakam, the 24-year old forward who once was on a path to the priesthood — until a visit, on a lark, to a summer basketball camp in his native Cameroon detoured him on an improbable basketball journey — scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. It was a prolific performance that would have been unthinkable two short years ago, when he was a raw, unpolished player who couldn’t shoot.

At all.

‘I was joking with him the other day,” teammate Fred VanVleet told ESPN. ‘We used to shoot together in my rookie year, and me and the guy rebounding used to duck sometimes because his shots would come off the rim so hard.

‘He had some bad misses. But what you are seeing now is the result of a lot of hard work. You can just see his confidence soaring.”

And the confidence of the Raptors is soaring as well. Not only do they think they can win, they believe they will win. And that’s how we should be: full of faith, void of fear and brimming with confidence that the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory. shall fight for us. Regardless of the opposition, notwithstanding the competition, we must trust and believe that we are victors, not victims. We must cling to the Old Rugged Cross and to the truth that we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us.

As for the Warriors, they have their work cut out for them, with or without Durant.

The Destiny of A Dynasty

We are witnessing the wonder and the glory of the golden age of the NBA. Some would argue that the age of Wilt and Russell or the age of Dr. J and Larry Bird and Ervin “Magic” Johnson or the age of Michael Jordan and Isaiah Thomas and Tim Duncan and LeBron James were the wonder years of the NBA. Perhaps.

But I submit that the years of the current Golden State Warriors dynasty may well and arguably be the best years basketball has even known. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, a.k.a the “Splash Brothers,” and the rest of the Warriors have been destined to show us just how the game of basketball should be played. And Its played as a team.

As of this writing, the Golden State Warriors are up two games to none over the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals and chances are they are only a few games away from winning their fourth championship in five years. And it doesn’t look like there’s any team that can stop this run away train.

So let’s just sit back and watch this wonderful, colorful, incredible run that should lead to the crowning of the current reigning kings of basketball. Again.

Did Kawhi Leonard Beat the 76ers?

kawhi-leonard

Some will say that Kawhi Leonard beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in Toronto. Yes, Kawhi had 41 points. Yes Kawhi hit the fadeaway, game winner from the right corner falling out of bounds with no time left on the clock. And yes Kawhi was the best player on the court, hands down. But the 76ers shot themselves in the foot time and again.

Note to file: that game winning shot wasn’t a swish; in other words, it didn’t hit all net. What had happened was quite to the contrary. Kawhi shot the ball high enough to get the it over Joel Embiid who was lunging at him, then the ball hit the right side of the rim, bounced up, bounced high off the right side of the rim again, then bounced twice off of the left side of the rim, THEN it fell through the net. It felt like it bounced around the rim for what seemed like an eternity, but the ball eventually bounced in, not out. Game, set, match – Toronto. But that miracle is not what beat the Sixers. The Sixers beat themselves.

First, the Sixers came out jittery, fidgety and frazzled and played that way most of the game. But at times the Sixers had the lead, and at one point they went on a 17-0 run and took what looked like a commanding seven point lead. AND Jimmy “Buckets” tied the game at 90 with 4.2 second left! (Note to file: keep Jimmy Butler and ban Brett Brown from anything that has to do with the 76ers organization from now, henceforth, and even forevermore). In other words, all of Philly is not down with Coach Brown. He’s got ta’ go.

While the Sixers had their chances, their play and their coach failed them down the stretch. Embiid and Simmons, their best players, coughed up the ball time and again, committing turnover after turnover in the final minutes. They even committed TWO – count ‘em — TWO shot clock violations with the game on the line. Oh well.

The moral of the story is this: don’t beat yourself. Unforced errors, careless mistakes and the lack of effort all combine to confound and contradict all of the positives you may have going your way, no matter how hard you try.

Let’s all learn the lesson. Don’t beat yourself.

Every Good Player Needs A Good Coach

steve kerr

Every good player needs a good coach. And every great player needs a great coach. And such is the story of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won Game Six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals — IN HOUSTON, mind you — on the strength of their best, leading role players, namely Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But/and they needed help, and they got big help from their supporting cast:  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, plus the rest of the bench.

And therein lies the lesson: In Game 6 against Houston, Steve Kerr employed his bench superbly. Maybe he should have used them more earlier in the playoffs, but as they say, “better late than never.”

Steve Kerr is a great coach.  And he has to be to coach the band of brothers that he has on his roster. Greatness needs greatness to succeed.  And we’re seeing the secret of Golden State’s success in the chemistry between the players and the coach.

Here’s a case in point: Steph Curry received his second foul early in the first quarter of Game Six, and Kerr immediately took Steph out of the game, much to his chagrin. When Curry got back to the huddle, Kerr was blunt with the two-time MVP.

“He keeps it real with us,” Curry said of Kerr after the game. “There was a moment tonight where I had my second foul when I fouled James on the three, and I saw on the board that he had put Quinn in. Obviously, I had a reaction to that. I walk into the huddle and he keeps it real.” 

“He’s like, ‘How can I trust you to not get your third when you know how big this game is right now and you put yourself in a situation — a predicament to get your second foul? So, I got to make a decision.’ Put Quinn in. Quinn was ready. Obviously, I didn’t like it, but we have a strong relationship where he knows I’m not going to lose confidence in that moment, and whenever I get back on the floor, hopefully good things will happen.” https://sports.yahoo.com/steve-kerr-had-blunt-message-223457898.html 

Steve Kerr knows which buttons to push and he knows when to yell and when to whisper. He knows his players. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and their bents and their dents, and he knows how to get the best out of them.  Sounds a lot like Psalm 139, right?

Psalm 139 speaks of how well God knows us. He knows our ins and our outs and our ups and our downs. And He wants to see to it that we are victorious in every situation. That’s why we must believe and rely on our Heavenly Head Coach. He knows us, and He wants to see us be the best we can be.

Here’s how Mike Cruz from ClutchPoints reported on the Warriors Game Six win:

“Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala were the stars of the Golden State Warriors’ series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. But as much as they led the defending champs to their Game 6 win sans leading scorer Kevin Durant, the Warriors banked on their motto, “Strength in Numbers,” to propel them back to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he was proud of how each of the Warriors’ supporting cast made their mark in their Game 6 win and wondered why he didn’t deploy them earlier in their 2019 postseason, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

‘Houston puts the fear of God in you,” Kerr, halfway through a postgame Corona, told The Athletic. “So we played it very close to the vest the first five games, just allowing our best defenders to be out there the whole time, thinking we got to do this. Then look, we’re forced to play the bench and they’re fantastic. And I’m like: ‘Well, what the  . . . ? What was I thinking? I should’ve played them earlier.’ But I’m just proud of them.’

The Warriors’ bench has been its thinnest since the Steve Kerr era began in 2015. Kerr has played his stars nearly 40 minutes per game over this playoff run so far. But with Kevin Durant slated to miss the rest of the series against Houston, he had no choice but to dig deep into his rotation, going 11 deep in Game 6.

Needless to say, Golden State’s unsung heroes delivered in every way possible. Kevon Looney continued his impressive play with his hustle, rebounding, and improved ability to finish around the rim. Veteran guard Shaun Livingston, likewise, turned back the clock and gave them an offensive spark off the bench.

Andrew Bogut started in place of Durant and was part of their solid start to Game 6. Jordan Bell gave them a spark with his defense and athleticism, while backup guard Quinn Cook gave quality minutes with Curry struggling and saddled with foul trouble in the first half.

The Warriors could possibly get injured stars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back at some point during the Western Conference Finals. Kerr could definitely try to use his bench more moving forward to give his stars fresher legs as they get deeper into another championship run.”