PJ Fleck Determined to Stop Jerry Kill from Burning Bridges Back to Dinkytown

PHOTO: JEFF WHEELER - STAR TRIBUNE

The Minnesota Gophers destroyed the New Mexico State Aggies on Thursday night, to kickoff their 2022 football season. The maroon and gold defense pitched a shutout, Mohamed Ibrahim appeared to be healthy and Tanner Morgan showed a higher level of confidence in the pocket.

With the 38-0 victory, they beat the 36-point spread assigned by many sportsbooks. Some had it set at 36.5. The headline from last night, however, was the return of former Gophers head coach, Jerry Kill. Leading up to the game, Kill continued with his refusal to reference PJ by name, instead choosing to refer to him as “the other guy”.

Jerry even told media outlets that he wasn’t sure if a handshake with Fleck would take place. PJ, meanwhile, has taken the permanent high road in all matters pertaining to Jerry Kill. Not once has PJ Fleck responding to Kill’s insults or insinuations.

Fleck Builds Bridges Back to Jerry Kill

And on Thursday night, Fleck walked directly up to Kill during pregame warmups and extended his hand, even a hug. Jerry seemed to be taken aback, but had to smile and make nice. What choice did he have but to set his Minnesota Gophers bridge burning torch down?

Fleck didn’t stop with his surprise pregame handshake, though. PJ’s postgame handshake was equally sincere and welcoming. Then, during his postgame press conference, Fleck heaped admiration on Kill and dialed up the excuse computer for any and all of Jerry’s past transgressions against him.

With arms wide open…

Country Jer’ has talked endlessly over the last week about how much he regrets losing track of his health, while coaching at the University of Minnesota. How he’s never been the same. And there’s no doubt Jerry Kill loved being the Gophers’ head coach. Just like PJ Fleck does. In other words, Kill’s negativity toward Fleck is solely based in Jerry’s own self-pity. And PJ clearly realizes as much.

Here is Fleck’s entire press conference after last night’s win vs New Mexico State. He’s asked about Jerry Kill and their handshakes toward the end (10:45 mark – transcribed below).

“I respect this game wholeheartedly. I respect Jerry kill wholeheartedly. I’ve never said one thing, ever, negative about Jerry Kill. In fact, my opening press conference I said I’m a Jerry killed guy. I said thank you for all that you’ve done in my career. I [told Jerry] I’ve always had the utmost respect for you. Always will. Simple as that. I mean, this profession is a very passionate profession and, I know this, I appreciate Jerry’s passion. – PJ Fleck (Postgame Press Conference)

Because I know how bad, you know, Jerry loves this place. And the one thing I’ll say, is so do I, And I know how he feels because I want to be here. And it’s a very special place to me. I couldn’t imagine not being here. And when you’re not here, and it’s not by necessarily even your choice, the choice maybe you have to make outside of [football], that can be really difficult. I don’t judge people on that. I never have. He’s done a lot for my career. I wish him all the best I hope he’s doing well. Hope him and Rebecca are good. And uh, you know, I appreciate him coming back. And I told him, you know, welcome back. It’s good to have you back.” – PJ Fleck (Postgame Press Conference)

Fleck wants to keep Jerry’s UofM bridges up.

Think what you want about PJ Fleck and the motives for his actions. But he brings people together. Since taking over as the Minnesota Gophers head football coach, he’s made a very strong push to bring former players back to Dinkytown. Former Gophers from all ages can be seen at team facilities during the week and out on the field before games.

And last night was PJ Fleck’s first move in a slow process to bring Jerry Kill back too. Not as a future coach or anything crazy like that. But as a Gophers figure. Someone who is welcomed inside of facilities, post career. A voice who can speak at Golden Dunker events and nobody raises an eyebrow. A fellow coach who can stop by and talk to kids and coaches about football.

Who knows how long it will take or if it will work, but PJ Fleck knows how important Jerry Kill is to Minnesota Gopher football history. And he wants to preserve it. Maybe someday, Jerry will still get the commemoration video he was once so deserving of.

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Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan