On Saturday night, Football Scoop reported that the University of Tennessee has honed in on and are “vetting” three candidates for their vacant head coaching job. PJ Fleck was named as one of those candidates and took most of the space in the “breaking news” piece done by Football Scoop.
The report has been confirmed over on GopherIllustrated.com (247Sports) by more than one person with sources from the Tennessee side of dealings, including Ryan Burns. Unsurprisingly, GI is also reporting that PJ Fleck picked up the phone when the University of Tennessee called him, too.
“Multiple college football sources confirmed to FootballScoop Saturday that Fleck, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and SMU head coach Sonny Dykes are among those coaches being vetted for the Tennessee job. At least one of those coaches and his agent have reached out to gauge interest of assistant coaches around the country in a potential opportunity to join a staff on Rocky Top.” – FootballScoop.com
It’s not surprising that the University of Tennessee is eyeballing PJ Fleck, and quite honestly, the job hire would make sense in a lot of ways. The Vols are facing recruiting sanctions, which PJ could use as a buffer to grow his program without being thrown out of his own boat too soon by SEC media and Tennessee fans/boosters.
The immediate effect he’d have on recruiting in SEC country would be felt like a wheelbarrow of bricks hitting them in the face. And Fleck motivates like no coach I’ve seen, all while running one of the tightest ships in the country.
If recruits came (they would), I have no doubt that success at Tennessee would soon follow.
But Fleck isn’t leaving.
Still, I’m convinced PJ Fleck will be coaching on the sidelines at the University of Minnesota this fall for a few reasons. The biggest one, being dollar dollar bills, ya’ll.
If I were a betting man, which I am, I’d say PJ and his Minnesota Gopher coaching staff are about to pad their bank accounts, possibly as soon as today or Monday, since Tennessee wants to make their hire in the next couple of days.
This shouldn’t upset any football fans in Minnesota. The raise is overdue, especially for his assistant staff.
Fleck’s Staff vs Rest of Big Ten
At $4.6 million per year, PJ Fleck currently sits as the 7th-highest paid head coach in the Big Ten conference and 24th most handsomely-paid in the country, according to USA Today. Meanwhile, the Gopher assistant pay pool sits pretty much tied for last place in the Big Ten at $3.6M.
Neither Penn State or Northwestern report their assistant pay pool (private schools) but, given that both are paying their head coaches more than what Fleck gets, I’m going to assume the same can be said for their assistants.
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Salaries are decided by the free market
You might not believe PJ Fleck is worth a certain dollar figure every season and you might think that college football coaches are vastly overpaid. But your opinion doesn’t matter and neither should Patrick Reusse’s. What does matter, just like most jobs in this great country, is what a coach can get paid on the free market.
In 2020, Tennessee paid HC Jeremy Pruitt $3.8M, which was good for 30th in the nation and less than what Fleck made here. The assistant pay pool, however, ranked in the national top-10 at $6.3M.
PJ Fleck’s buyout, should he decide to leave Minnesota, dropped from $10 million to $5 million when the calendar turned to 2021, make it easier for Tennessee to pry him away.
Still, the University of Tennessee has never paid a head coach obscene amounts of money. Lane Kiffin made $2 million in his one season (2009). Butch Jones made $3.6 million when he started and eventually worked that over $4.0 million.
Obviously, the low-tiered SEC head coaching salaries will have to change with this next hire, if the Vols are serious about contending in the SEC. But I don’t expect their offer to Fleck was anything crazy (maybe a dash over $5M/yr).
Just a small bump for Fleck should do the trick
He’s already making $4.6M/yr at Minnesota so a small bump in pay for PJ and a bigger one for his underpaid assistants should easily squash this Tennessee grab and go attempt.
If President Joan Gable and AD Mark Coyle can’t get an additional $500K for PJ ($5.1M total) and a $1M increase for his assistant pay pool ($4.6M total), I’d be very disappointed.
Those raises would put Fleck in swinging range of any Big Ten coach not standing on a Michigan or Ohio State sideline, and it would bump his assistant pay pool to a competitive number within Big Ten West contenders.
The Minnesota Gopher football program brings in over $100 million in revenue every (non-pandemic) year. Think about how much that number has gone up since PJ Fleck dropped into Minneapolis. Think about how much it’d drop without him. That’s the opposite of what the school needs as they look to recoup 2020-21 losses.
Some sports just matter more. Get over it.
I don’t care about the sports that were cut earlier this year and nobody really does. The outcries are all fake. If smaller university sports cared about staying on campus, they would give PJ Fleck as much money as he wants.
The better the football program, the more money made by the athletic department. If more money is made by the athletic department, it’s less likely other sports get cut AND Title IX dictates that every sport gets a bigger chunk of that additional cash.
We all know that these smaller sports aren’t going to make any money for themselves…
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan