Bald P.J. Fleck brings energy to Minnesota, Big Ten media days

CHICAGO - P.J. Fleck swept across the stage at the Big Ten media day, his first appearance as the football coach at Minnesota, and he went into full hurricane mode.

Highly caffeinated.

Fully charged.

Electricity shooting through his veins. Air blowing in every direction. Selling his new football program at Minnesota, his philosophies and a few used cars along the way.

I’m not sure. He talks so dang fast. He spit out about 3,000 words in 15 minutes this morning. There was a lot to digest.

This guy makes Jim Harbaugh look calm and sedated. Until Harbaugh, Michigan's football coach, started shouting in the hallway this morning.

If nothing else, these guys are entertaining.

Fleck was the same way at Western Michigan until he bolted in January for a bigger job, a bigger paycheck and a bigger microphone.

“Good morning, I'm not sure if this was by design to make me go first by waking everybody up,” Fleck said to a banquet room full of reporters. “I do want to start by this: Just want to say hi to my kids – Gavin, Carter, Paisley and Harper – at home. They're watching right now. Just want to say hi, and, Harper, quit hitting your sister. Please don't do that anymore."

Yes, he started with a shout-out to his kids.

Fleck looked different. His head was shaved – he said he lost a bet with his wife – but he sounded the same. Before long, both hands were waving, as he got hyped up. He was “rowing the boat” and trying to be “elite. Yes, we have heard this before.

It’s the same spiel he used to transform Western Michigan, building that program since 2013 before converting a 13-0 regular season and a Cotton Bowl appearance into a Big Ten gig.

He bolted out the door, taking with him several WMU coaches, his strength and conditioning coach and a bunch of WMU recruits, including three from the state of Michigan. That’s what happens in college football when a program is used as a stepping stone.

You build it up as fast as you can, then bolt.

What happened to “Row the Boat?” His mantra?

He took that with him, too.

“I don't make any money from the row the boat saying,” Fleck said. “There's a portion that University of Minnesota will take and donate to charity at the Masonic Children's Hospital, which is something that my wife, Heather, and our family really feel strongly about that we would like that to be able to happen.

“I've learned a lot. John Cunningham, Mark Coyle, our athletic director and assistant athletic director, have done a tremendous job of educating me, our licensing department to make it all fit. So we're very lucky to have it. I love being able to bring it with us. I'm very thankful that Western Michigan was allowing us to bring our personal mantra but also a mantra we wanted to share with our entire community, to connect our community to our program, whether they like football or not.”

Say what you will about Fleck, but the guy is a born salesman.

He's also a born recruiter. And it will be fascinating to see what he can do at Minnesota, a school that hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967.

“It's a wonderful challenge here at the University of Minnesota, one we look forward to attacking as we go forward,” Fleck said. “We're not shying away from what we haven't necessarily accomplished in terms of championship feel of 50 years without a championship, but we want to be that bridge. We want to be that bridge that connects the past with the present and also the future moving forward.”

All I know for sure is the P.J. Fleck show officially has hit the Twin Cities.

But it’s also coming to ESPNU, which will air a four-part miniseries, “Being P.J. Fleck,” which debuts on Aug.2, with re-runs on the Big Ten Network.

Seriously, you didn't see that coming?

“First of all, they approached us,” Fleck said. “This wasn't something that we said: 'We're going to have a reality show; let's go find somebody to air it.' They approached us, which was an honor. One thing I am hired to do is bring national exposure, national attention to the University of Minnesota. And that's what we're going to do.

“And the title I don't get to pick. 'Being P.J. Fleck,' that's not a title that I would necessarily pick. But I think it's every head coach's job and responsibility to bring attention to their institution.

“That's not self-promoting, but I think every head football coach in America is self-promoting at some point. We're all selling ourselves and showing what we're like and recruiting our cultures and developing our cultures. You're the front porch of the institution.

“You're not the most important thing on campus, but you're the front porch of nationally what everybody sees, and you're representing a ton of people, from the faculty, to our administration, to our Board of Regents, to President (Eric) Kaler, the athletic director, Mark Coyle, to our players, to our Twin Cities, to our state. You're representing so much.

“So it's an honor to be able to have a reality show on the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football. That is truly an honor. I have not seen the show. I've lived life, so I kinda know what that's like. But I don't know what the show is going to be like. I don't know if this is going to be like the Kardashians or they're going to spin it that way or it's going to be a little bit tamer. But it will be a little interesting to see what comes out of the reality show.

“But, again, it's about the University of Minnesota. It's about rowing the boat and it's our culture and our new program that we brought into the Twin Cities.”

Whew. Got all that?

Eventually, after 15 minutes, the self-admitted, self-promoting coach stopped talking.

And we were left with silence.

Ah, sweet silence.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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