Is this the low point of the PJ Fleck era?

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After Minnesota’s shocking collapse against Northwestern early in the season I had a feeling we were going be in store for a roller coaster of a season, which couldn’t be more true. After finally winning the Floyd of Rosedale for the first time in his career P.J. Fleck’s Gophers have turned in two of the most frustrating performances of his tenure in Dinkytown, against Illinois and Purdue. Unfortunately seeing the Big Ten West slip away was something that Gophers fans have seen before, but watching a 2-7 Purdue team led by a first-year head coach completely humiliate the Maroon & Gold was inexcusable.

What continues to make these losses so frustrating to me, is listening to P.J. Fleck’s “reasons” (as he called it) for his time not performing up to expectation. Great coaches do not complain about having inexperienced players and injuries, in Week 11 of the season and Year 7 of tenure at a program. You’re essentially admitting that you didn’t come to the game prepared. It is your job as a head coach to build a team that you’re confident in competing at a high level every single week of the season, especially when it’s so far into your run with a program.

Sure you were forced to rely on a former walk-on safety at running back (Jordan Nubin) and a true freshman LB (Matt Kingsbury) in a Big Ten game on the road, but maybe that’s a bigger issue, that you ever even ended up in that position in the first place. A Purdue football team that averaged 154.8 rushing yards per game heading into Saturday, had 44 carries for 353 yards and 4 touchdowns, coming to a whopping 8 YARDS PER-CARRY. I believe that was the worst accumulative four quarters of defensive football that Joe Rossi and the Gophers defense has produced since losing to Maryland in 2020.

Sure, Athan had a few good moments and it looked like he was starting to find his rhythm, but for another time this season he completely fell apart in the second half and all of the success that the Gophers offense has in the first half was completely gone. Greg Harbaugh Jr.’s offense averaged an abysmal 4 yards per play in the second half. All facets of the football team looked unprepared, unmotivated and uninterested in playing in West Lafayette and that should rest on one man’s shoulders… the head coach.

Where do we go from here?

If you have been following me all season, I have reiterated that P.J. Fleck’s job should be relatively safe and he is still the right man for the job. While I still believe that to be true a loss like Saturday afternoon’s is making me completely rethink the future of this program. American sports has a culture that firing a head coach can solve a program’s issues, but hiring P.J. Fleck fixed a lot of systemic problems that the Minnesota football program had. He has built Gophers football into a respected program nationally that has expectations again. As someone who is 22 years old, there were many years that going 6-6 and making a bowl game was considered a success. Fleck has built this program to a position where that is not enough and he does deserve credit for that.

With all that being said, as Texas A&M is rumored to pay Jimbo Fisher $75 million to not coach their football program, I think there are some similarities between Fleck and Fisher. SEC football is obviously a different animal, but I think it is fair to look at a season like the Gophers are having and believe that Fleck knows his job is secure and he’s not running his program with urgency, much like Fisher was in College Station. This year was always meant to be a rebuilding year, Minnesota will likely never be a program that can win 9+ games every season, but the way that they’re losing these games is inexcusable.

Beating Iowa was one of Fleck’s most important wins of his coaching career, but since that game, it has seemed as if the team and program have zero sense of urgency. Beating Illinois at home and Purdue and the road should not be an unrealistic goal as you’re competing for a Big Ten West Championship. I am not reporting any truth to any of this, but there should not be rumors of your star freshman RB sitting out to delay an inevitable transfer, or your starting LB sitting out to preserve a medical redshirt, while there is still a heck of a lot to play for. I don’t believe either of those things to be true, but the fact that rumors like that are spreading is not good. The last two weeks had zero sense of urgency, motivation, or heart, this team is playing without an identity and they’re playing soft which is not something that should be happening in year seven.

P.J. Fleck as the head coach of the University of Minnesota’s football team is still likely the quickest and easiest path for this program to remain competitive in the near future. But, much like last week it is time for him to change his best. There needs to be major changes in this program in the offseason in my opinion. The offense is clearly not working and arguably got worse, the special teams continue to be inexcusably bad and it might be time to look at adding a veteran QB from the transfer portal in the offseason. I still believe that Athan Kaliakmanis can play at a level that this team needs, but it would not be a horrible idea to bring in another arm to light some fire to the QB room. It’s time to stop playing favorites, man up and play some Big Ten football, something that I believe PJ Fleck is still more than capable of doing.

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