Patrick Reusse Finally Grabs Oar, Endorses PJ Fleck

Photo: Hannah Foslien - Getty Images

PJ Fleck is three games into his 6th season as head football coach at the University of Minnesota and his accomplishments speak for themselves. Fleck’s 2019 Gophers team was the best in recent history, posting the most wins (11) since 1904 and pushing themselves into the Outback Bowl, beating Auburn with relative ease. Under Fleck, Minnesota is undefeated in bowl season play (3-0)

PJ Fleck’s .623 (38-23) winning percentage is far and away the best the program has seen since Bernie Bierman retired, following the 1950 season (.716 | 93-35). In his 1.5 seasons at the helm, Tracy Claeys comes in 2nd, post Bierman (.529 | 19-11). Glenn Mason third (.529 | 64-57).

Haters Finding it Difficult to Hate

When PJ Fleck arrived in Dinkytown, full of catch phrases and bravado, he piled up just as many haters as he did followers. But those doubters are finding it more and more difficult to dislike PJ as time goes on.

Why? Because of the evidence piling up against them, only some of which is listed above. But since the day PJ was hired, there’s been one man leading the pitchfork mob against him.

History of Reusse vs Fleck

Patrick Reusse, long time writer at the Star Tribune and one of the most influential media members in the Twin Cities, has made his disgust for PJ Fleck well known, throughout the years. He dubbed Fleck “Turkey of the Year” in 2018, his yearly Thanksgiving Day column aimed at who Pat considers the worst person on the Minnesota sports season that year.

Column after column, tweet after tweet, after tweet after tweet; Patrick Reusse has spent most of his coverage of the Gophers over the past 5+ years, criticizing and/or poking fun at the eccentric Minnesota Gophers football coach.

It got so bad in 2018 that Heather Fleck, PJ’s wife, felt a need to respond on Twitter, something that is way out of the ordinary.

Reusse Jumps in Boat, Grabs Oar

But there’s too much evidence, at this point, for even Patrick Reusse to deny what PJ Fleck has done with the Minnesota Gophers football program.

In a long rambling column (that will be featured in Thursday’s paper), mostly about the life and influence that U of M booster, Harvey Mackay, has had on the Minnesota sports scene since the 1970’s, Reusse finally admitted what most already know. Mackey is a friend of Patrick and fully endorses Fleck. That, Reusse claims, is what forced him to see the light.

Harvey and I had lunch last month. Around 80 minutes, and a much-needed sharpening of my listening skills.

Around 25% of the Harvey blitz was a full-fledged salute to P.J. Fleck, as he entered Season 6 as Gophers football coach.

“I’ve been around him; I’ve seen the way the players react to him,” Mackay said. “You watch him dive into those players and surf across them after a victory … the enthusiasm he has for the players and them for him is world-class.”

So, not hearing a future siren call from Notre Dame, as did your man Lou after only two seasons?

“P.J. loves it here, and he knows he can win here,” Mackay said. “We have a true star in this coach.”

OK, after the overwhelming start against chumps this season, and a solid chance to win Saturday at Michigan State, and with the Big Ten West crumbling as the Gophers rise, and in honor of the 90th birthday of my later-in-life friend Harvey, there’s a revised outlook for this fall. Here goes:

I’m buying P.J. Fleck.

Patrick Reusse (Star Tribune)

That final line you read above, was the finishing sentence to his column. The title was “Maybe it’s time I grab an oar”. Pat hiding Fleck’s praise at the end of his lengthy column shows just how difficult this was for him. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan