PJ Fleck, Gophers Managing Portal Era Talent Better than Most Big Ten Teams

PJ Fleck, Minnesota Gophers football
Photo: Minnesota Gophers football (@GopherFootball - X)

It’s 2024 and if you do not know how to successfully navigate the transfer portal as a division one college football head coach, your team will decay and you will eventually be fired. What’s considered a successful operation these days? Maybe you should ask PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Gophers…

To win D1 college football games in the transfer portal era, coaches (from the head coach on down) must be able to keep as much of their top talent, as possible, out of the portal. But not only that, they must also be able to dive into the transfer portal to find talented players who can fill roster holes, both immediately and in the future.

Minnesota Gophers impressive in transfer portal this offseason

And so far this offseason, there aren’t a lot of Big Ten teams that have done a better job of managing the portal than Minnesota Gophers head coach PJ Fleck, and his assistant coaches, who work tirelessly to do all of the above.

Since the end of the 2023 season, only Iowa (7), Penn State (8) and Illinois (9) have lost fewer players to the portal than Minnesota (10), according to The Athletic. No team with 12 portal exits or less has gained back more than 7, except for the Gophers (9).

SchoolPortal ExitsPortal Gains
Penn State86
Ohio State227
Michigan State3111
via The Athletic

And after further investigation, most of those portal entries were from backup players looking for more playing time. Last year’s starting QB Athan Kaliakmanis is really the only impact starter who left (Rutgers).

But many would argue, including Fleck and his offensive coaches, that they’re better off at that position too, with incoming transfer, Max Brosmer (New Hampshire), who led the FCS in passing yards last season and a guy the Gophers clearly love. He’s not the only big time addition, though.

Related: Gophers New QB Max Brosmer was Overwhelmed with Transfer Portal Suitors

Speaking of upgrades, one could argue PJ Fleck & Co upgraded just about every scholarship the Gophers lost to the portal so far this offseason. They upgraded immediately at running back with Sieh Bangura (Ohio) and Marcus Major (Oklahoma), at cornerback with Jai’Onte’ McMillan (TCU) and Ethan Robinson (Bucknell), and at wide receiver with Cristian Driver (Penn State) and Jaylen Varner (Emporia State – DII).

Players they’ve lost to portal, whose names you may or may not know include the aforementioned Athan Kaliakmanis, his backup WR brother Dino Kaliakmanis (Rutgers), RB Zach Evans (North Texas), CB Marquese Williams (Akron) and offensive tackle JJ Gaudett (Illinois State). Evans got some run when freshman phenom Darius Taylor struggled with injuries throughout the season, but nobody beyond Athan was a true starter, entering the season.

Speaking of Darius Taylor, let’s talk about how PJ Fleck & Co kept him around this offseason, along with the rest of Minnesota’s top players from last year. How are they doing it? Dinkytown Athletes.

Related: Why Did Athan Kaliakmanis Enter the Transfer Portal?

Not that long ago, there was not a lot of optimism surrounding the Minnesota Gophers Name, Image and Likeness situation. They were losing their best talents to the transfer portal on a regular basis and PJ Fleck sounded nearly defeated, when he spoke with Justin Gaard and Mike Grimm for an early-season edition of The PJ Fleck Show on KFAN last September.

“[That’s what happens when you’re] playing a true freshman tailback. But we also have players that were here, that are now gone, playing at another school, that should be here playing right now. Because, again, NIL. We didn’t pay them (Gaard, Grimm chuckle). We didn’t pay them enough. That is the fact of life and we all laugh at it but that is a fact.”

PJ Fleck – KFAN (September 28, 2023)

Since then, the Gophers’ official NIL collective has exploded, creating and releasing a new beer, partnering with bacon suppliers and, most recently, releasing a new coffee. Obviously, things can always be better on the NIL front and that won’t change as long as collegiate athletics are run on a wild wild west “name, image and likeness” world.

But as long as PJ is here (which he almost wasn’t) and Dinkytown can, at least, keep Gophers players happy and trasnfer portal talents enticed… Minnesota football might stand a chance in this new Big Ten world after all.

Mentioned in this article:

More About: