Ski-U-Mah meets Row The Boat. Those were the first words out of newly appointed Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck’s mouth as he was introduced on Friday afternoon. He was calm and collected at first, speaking from prepared talking points and thanking the people he needed to thank. Thanking Western for the opportunity they gave him, his past players and staff. Thanking the University of Minnesota and the AD. His wife and family. Then, Coach Fleck changed directions and started getting into a little bit of familiar territory to anyone who has covered him in any sort of fashion. The energy started to go up and the press conference quickly turned into a revival.
He was pointing, he was talking about culture. The word elite was woven into sentences in the place of the words “great” or “excellent”. He mentioned Bgg Ten West titles. Big Ten titles. Rose Bowls (plural) and the National Championship. He was confident and matter of fact. It was a level of bravado that you do not typically see from someone speaking in front of the Minnesota logo. He was there to change the culture of Minnesota and it was starting today.
4 years ago, the same P.J. Fleck stepped on the stage in Kalamazoo and delivered the same kind of presser. Passionate, full of hope. He was yelling about boats and rowing and frankly it seemed insane. No one knew what the hell this dude was talking about but it worked. In 4 years time he built a program that was pulling recruits with way too many stars for a non-P5 school. Now, after a perfect regular season and a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game he is getting a chance to run a program with deep pockets and an even deeper talent pool. The entire Big Ten (not just the West), should be on high alert.
In his press conference he said that recruiting is the “pipeline and lifeline” of success for the program. At Western Michigan, part of the reason he was able to have that level of success is because he was the first coach in program history to hire a dedicated recruiting coordinator. His focus on recruiting and ability to win the living room was the lone highlight of his first year. While the team went 1-11, his first recruiting class was ranked by Rivals.com as the highest in the mid-majors that year and even described as the best recruiting class that WMU had ever seen. It did not stop after that year either. The turn around from year one to two led the Broncos to success on the field, improving to back to back 8-5 records.
Recruits recognized a good opportunity and his winning personality. That, matched with the performance on the field, allowed Fleck and his staff to pull in the 69th best recruiting class in the nation for 2016 according to ESPN’s RecrutingNation Rankings. They were the only MAC school to break into the top 75. This is something that all programs in the Big Ten should be paying attention to. While in his opening press conference he mentioned putting up a wall around the state of Minnesota for recruiting, he is no stranger to pulling big recruits from the back yards of other schools. While Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa have a lot to worry about due to proximity (let alone his personality and recent record), Michigan State has reason to fret as well. After 4 years at WMU, Fleck knows the state of Michigan and it’s recruits well and now that he has a Big Ten school behind him, those 3 stars can easily turn to 4s and 5s. He is an exciting guy that recruited on passion and hope, now he has a record and a Big Ten program to add to the mix.
This year is going to be very telling for P.J. Fleck. No doubt he is a good coach, you can not take a team to 13-1 without being good and he is walking into a program in Minnesota that while it has had it’s recent issues, is still a 9-3 squad with a 2016 recruiting class that was ranked 55th in the nation. Western was 4-8 the year before Fleck came to Kalamazoo so he is undoubtedly walking into a better situation. While he is the youngest coach in the Big Ten, he seems like the type to be able to handle it. All I know is that the recruiting battle in Big Ten Country just got a whole lot tougher.
Watch the press conference here (P.J. Fleck is introduced at 37:01):