Big Ten Conference Football Media Days

Tuesday July 25, 2017

P.J. Fleck


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck.

P.J. FLECK: Good morning. I'm not sure if this was by design to make me go first by waking everybody up. 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.

This is the honeymoon stage, and it's coming down to the end here. It's been a fabulous six months. I've enjoyed that. And I just want everybody in here to understand how honored I am to be the head football coach at the University of Minnesota. I think I speak for our entire coaching staff, the ability and the honor it is to coach in the Big Ten, one of the most prestigious conferences academically, athletically, socially and spiritually in the country is really a dream come true for a lot of our guys.

One of the main reasons we ended up leaving Western Michigan was to be able to have our assistant coaches have a lot of their dreams come true as well to be able to coach at I think the most prestigious league in all of college football.

It's a wonderful challenge here at the University of Minnesota, one we look forward to attacking as we go forward. 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.

We've had a tremendous offseason. It's been challenging. We've had 22, I would say, impactful players have offseason surgeries from last season that we're kind of recovering from. So to be able to get those guys back here coming up next week will be really exciting.

We did lose a little bit of time with them, obviously the last six months in terms of getting to know our offense, defense, special teams, but they were able to be around our culture.

We have a very unique challenge ahead of us as we get into training camp. Usually get to training camp, you have a pretty good feel of your football team. Right now we've got to be able to evaluate, you've got to be able to develop, and then you've got to somehow be able to master that offense, defense, and special teams when you hit training camp.

I'm very proud of our players academically. Set the highest GPA ever in the last 25 years of keeping track of this for our football program this past semester, with all the challenges they were facing and all the change. I'm very proud of our players for doing that.

When you look at who we brought, I'm very proud of these three student-athletes. Rodney Smith you all know is our running back. He's kind of the personality of our football team. Huge smile, ton of energy, very charismatic. I think you'll enjoy spending time with him. By the way, he's a pretty phenomenal running back as well.

Steven Richardson, hometown kid. I remember recruiting him when we were at Western Michigan University. The biggest challenge he had was finding a suit that fit. When you see Steven, he's so wide up top and he's got this little skinny waist. That was one of the major challenges for him coming here.

And then Jon Celestin, our starting linebacker, who has shown a ton of perseverance over the course of this offseason. I'm sure he wouldn't mind me sharing this with you, that he lost his dad a few months ago and to be able to handle that in the offseason with a new staff was very challenging for him.

But these are three players that I tell them I love them every day. They're very special. They sacrifice in everything that they do, and I think you'll really enjoy spending time around these players.

One of the challenges we face again at Minnesota is cultural sustainability. That is our players' third head coach in three years. Very challenging for young people.

We look forward to bringing that culture of sustainability over a period of time. We look forward to developing our players to an elite level, academically, athletically, socially, and spiritually on a daily basis, and keep doing our best and rowing the boat every single day.

With that, we'll open up for questions.

Q. You've coached against a lot of these fellow coaches in the Big Ten. How have you been received by your new colleagues?
P.J. FLECK: Everybody has been incredibly warm and open, to be honest with you. Coaching is a fraternity as it is. You all are pretty close. You compete on game day. But you have a lot of relationships with people. James Franklin is a very, very close friend. Pat Fitzgerald, I remember 10 years ago I came here to Chicago to meet Pat and just had lunch, took me out to lunch, talked to me about what being a head coach was all about. That was 10 years ago. I knew I wanted to be a head coach.

You're talking about these guys being very open, warm. We're all competitors. We're competing in recruiting, you're competing on the field, but really they've accepted me as part of the group very quickly. When you get the job, you get text messages from all of them.

I wouldn't expect anything less from the Big Ten and the coaches. Like I said, we have some of the best coaches in the entire world, guys that have been my mentors, guys that I've looked up to, guys that I have known for a very long time as well. That's why I said I'm very honored and very humbled, as well as our football staff, to be a part of the Big Ten.

Q. Your show premieres next week on ESPNU. How did the network come up with the idea with you?
P.J. FLECK: First of all, they approached us. 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 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.

Q. You hired Ed Warinner to be your offensive line coach. Could you talk about that decision and what impact you expect him to have?
P.J. FLECK: Oh, my gosh, an immediate impact, first and foremost. Anytime you get a chance to hire a guy like Ed Warinner, you jump on it. Brian Callahan was my offensive line coach at Western Michigan University, one of the best O line coaches in the country. And I remember we were making the change from Western Michigan to the University of Minnesota. I had Brian in my office, and I said, "Brian, listen, I'm bringing you." He said, "Oh, thank you, Coach. I'm so honored to come. I can't wait to coach in the Big Ten. It's been a dream of mine."

But then it was, "What am I going to coach?" I said, "I'm going to move you to tight end." He looked a little disappointed, because he's an O line guy. Most O line guys want to coach O line. And I said, "But I've got a chance to possibly hire Ed Warinner." And his eyes lit up. He's like, "Coach, if you can hire Ed Warinner, you hire Ed Warinner. I'd love to work with Ed Warinner and learn from him."

So you talk about the selflessness of our staff. And Ed has brought a ton of knowledge to our offensive room. He's a phenomenal recruiter, wonderful person, and just brings a plethora of knowledge. Anytime you can hire an offensive coordinator at The Ohio State University, bring him up, be a part of an experience he's had and bring him a part of your program, you jump on it. He's had numerous opportunities to leave and go to the National Football League, and I'm very honored he stayed. It just shows what type of commitment he has, and we'll enjoy him every chance we can while we have him.

Q. You mentioned Rodney and his personality. And how has he helped break in that rushing attack, and is it similar to the one that you did have at Western Michigan?
P.J. FLECK: One thing about our program, I think it's just different. You don't try to be different, you are just bringing in your stuff. So from your culture to your program to your systems, everything that you do, your leadership abilities. And the running game, I'm not sure what they did last year, but I do know what we do, and I know Rodney and Shannon are going to be highlighted.

The old saying, we said this at Western Michigan, it's amazing that Glen Mason said it, you need a pair and a spare, that is true. We've got a pair, and we have Kobe McCrary as a spare and some others, Femi-Cole.

But I think our backs are going to flourish in our system. I think they're really going to enjoy it. I think they actually really like it. They like to be able to see from what were you like at a different place. And not only what were you like at a different place but what were you like at my position. I want to see the stats at my position so I know what type of system you have.

And I think they're really impressed with guys like Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin and LeVante Bellamy and Davon Tucker. So they start to see that, and a lot of publicists had Western Michigan running backs ranked really high as a group, and our guys get excited about that because they know they're going to be very involved in our system.

We love to run the football. And I think Coach Ciarrocca is one of the best offensive coordinators in the country. He's an incredible friend. I used to work for him. One of the best listeners in the country. And what he does really well, he has the ability to get the most out of his players by putting them in the best position to be successful.

Q. Regarding the deal that you struck to get the "Row the Boat" trademark from Western Michigan, what were some of the specifics in getting that deal done? And also now with the usage rights, do you have full rights? Are there any restrictions?
P.J. FLECK: Yeah, the thing about row the boat, I think we're very lucky, we're very honored to be able to have a slogan behind our brand and our image that means way more than football; that even football fans of football can enjoy and then people who maybe aren't necessarily fans of football can still truly connect with our culture of what row the boat means.

Going back I think it was five years ago, we brought row the boat to Western Michigan. And for a university to be able to use that logo, you've got to be able to trademark it, license it, and then you also have to do it with the university's logo to use it.

I don't make any money from the row the boat saying. 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.

But, yes, we're able to use it. There's not many restrictions on it. It's just very -- it's very complex when you use it because the official logo that we have with (indiscernible) in it, it has row the boat in it, and it has the block M in it. There's a lot of different licensing and trademarks that go along with it.

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.

Q. At what age did you first think you wanted to become a coach?
P.J. FLECK: I was always involved in education. I'm an elementary education major. Taught basically sixth grade social studies. I've loved ancient Rome. I was brought up and developed to teach 36 sixth graders a lesson plan 36 different ways. If you think of a head football coach and teaching lessons and teaching life and football, you've gotta do it 125 different ways at times to be able to reach and connect with your players. Not only to just reach, but educate. I've always wanted to be a teacher.

I've always wanted to play in the Big Ten, coach in the Big Ten. Truly it was when I got cut with the San Francisco 49ers as a player my third year, Mike Nolan ended up cutting me. He's one of my biggest influences in my entire life, but cutting me, but offered me a job seven seconds later. I said, "What's the job going to be?" He said, "I don't know. I'm going to make it up." He said, "I don't have it, but you're going to be in the scouting department for three months, you're going to be in the coaching department for three months during the season, you're going to be in the front office department. We're going to give you a broad spectrum of the National Football League, and I think you'll be a phenomenal coach."

When you have coaches like that believe in you, you need that. The only reason why I'm the head football coach of the University of Minnesota are guys like Greg Schiano, Mike Nolan, Joe Novak, Jim Tressel. Those are your trees. That's who got me interested. My high school coaches, Tom Fetterly at Kaneland High School and Joe Thorgeson, my track coach, Ralph Drendel. Those are the people I remember. I remember my third grade teacher, Ms. Jacob, who got me interested in reading and called me out because I couldn't read. Like she was influential.

We remember our educators, our teachers, our coaches and those are the people that have influenced my life. I would say it was that day that I got cut, I stopped playing, that he was like, "Listen, I think you'll be a phenomenal coach. You need to listen to me."

I ended up not taking the job and going with Jim Tressel instead to Ohio State, which is where I wanted to be anyway. I really wanted to be in college athletics and being there for the mentorship and the development of student athletes.

Q. What did you pick up just from that time with Jim Tressel at Ohio State about what it takes to win in the Big Ten on a consistent basis?
P.J. FLECK: There's two things: Nobody's perfect and poise. Those are two things I learned from Jim Tressel. Poise, I've never seen a guy more poised in my entire life. It could be high, it could be low. I've never seen anybody be able to handle a situation or crisis as well as Jim Tressel.

And everybody is a human being. Everybody can be defeated. Here I am my first year of coaching, you're 5-0, 6-0, 8-0, 12-0. This coaching thing is pretty easy. Go to the national championship, the same fad, get a job, go to a national championship. Then it was against Florida, and it was on the headset, and I remember Jim Tressel saying in the first quarter: Boys, if we don't get this first down, it's over.

I'm sitting there thinking this is Jim Tressel. This is incredible. But it was one of the biggest teaching moments of my life because I put him on such a pedestal. He's so perfect, everything he called. And then we played Florida and got beat, but even to watch him handle the loss was incredible, with poise, with dignity, with integrity, complementing Florida, first class in everything that he did.

Those are the things and moments you remember, and you want to be like the people that shaped your life. And he's a huge influence in my life. He was also an educator and now obviously still in education and being the president of Youngstown State. But I'm very honored to be part of that tree. Very honored to have him be a part of my life.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Rev #2 by #267 at 2017-07-25 14:25:00 GMT

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