PJ Fleck Cares What You Think About Gophers Uniforms, But Not Really

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Northwestern
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The Minnesota Gophers are 2-1 on the young 2023 season, following a loss in Chapel Hill over the weekend vs the North Carolina Tar Heels. Wins and losses weren’t the only subject of questions head coach PJ Fleck had to answer in his Monday press conference, though.

Many old-school Gopher football fans and alumni have voiced concerns since Fleck took over, regarding the team’s uniforms. The consternation started when PJ arrived in 2017, and immediately added his “Row the Boat” oar to the iconic block “M” helmet.

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Many upset over Minnesota Gophers 1st-ever all-black uniforms

Since taking over (6.25 seasons), Fleck has has used more uniform combinations than all of his coaching predecessors combined. Entering the 2023 season, he had used 22 different combinations of maroon, gold, white, black and anthracite (gray), including 47 unique helmet designs.

That was before the Gophers wore all black uniforms for the first time in program history in week 2 vs the Eastern Michigan Eagles, a combination that sent many of those old-school fans into a frenzy. Fleck told reporters that he’s received a bunch of emails on the subject. I don’t know if one of those emailers was longtime Pioneer Press columnist, Charley Walters, who wrote about his dismay with a note in his bi-weekly column over the weekend.

—The Gophers football program still hasn’t figured out that Minnesota’s colors are maroon and gold, not the black uniforms the team wore against Eastern Michigan.

PJ Fleck focused on what players think

But when asked about his vast variety in uniform combinations on Monday, PJ Fleck made his stance very clear. While he absolutely values tradition and the opinions from those outside the program, he cares a lot more about what those inside the program think.

You do not see this reaction from Fleck very often but he bent over in laughter when asked about his uniform choices on Monday, before diving into the subject for nearly 5 minutes.

PJ is aware of the Gophers’ main colors being maroon and gold and confirmed he is not trying to change that. He started his “rant” by pointing to other traditionally great schools like Ohio State and Florida, programs that also utilize alternate black uniforms.

Dave Campbell (AP): “What goes into the decision on selecting the the game uniform from week to week? You’ve got quite a variety there. And,,, uh… is the black color particularly popular with the players? I suspected it is.”

Fleck: “Well, I’m gonna start with this: Comparisons steal your joy, first of all. Comparison is a killer, it is. Our traditional colors are maroon and gold. Always will be, always will be, always will be. No one is taking that away. You look at Ohio State; [is that program] traditional, yes or no? Do they have a black uniform? Yes, the answer is yes. They are not only traditional, and winning national championships in the 60’s, right? They’re winning them in in recent modern day football. They have black uniforms.

The Florida Gators, did they have black uniforms the other day? Sure did. I can go on. No offense to any of us, and I get it. Tradition, right. I’m here to uphold that tradition, OK? We haven’t changed the mascot, we haven’t changed the name, we haven’t changed the colors. We’re adding a little flavor to it, that’s all.

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Fleck told reporters that he would change designs and color combinations every single week, if given the opportunity. Why? Because he likes to switch it up, and more importantly than anything else, the kids love them.

Fleck: It’s all about the players. Everything we do is about the players that are on that field. The student athletes love it, our student body loves it, the young people love it. And I get it, but that’s why every week we do something a little different.”

The kids love changing it up

Current players and possible future Gophers, along with the U of M student body, love the many uniform combinations deployed by the football team. It doesn’t really matter what you, I or Charley Walters thinks.

PJ is all about tradition, and talks about football history at the University of Minnesota constantly, but when it comes to team attire on the field, he’s about the kids. In fact, PJ teams up with his equipment managers and team leaders to decide on uniform combinations throughout each season.

Fleck: “Every week, our players get to have a peace and a voice to what we wear. This isn’t [me blaming] our players; this isn’t that. They get a meeting with myself and our equipment manager, [who] lays out all these combinations. Now, they don’t get to see the new added selection, you know, they didn’t get to see the black uniforms.

I think they had a feeling they were coming, because we might have given them a little bit of a an appetizer about it in the offseason, but they get to pick the combinations. Again, I have a leadership council, I have a board of directors within our team.

Our players have a massive voice within these walls and I want them to feel really good about what they do, how they look, how they present themselves on the field off the field in their uniforms and it’s something they wanted. I don’t think there was you know 1 email from our players that said ‘I didn’t like those’ and that’s with no disrespect to our fans. We have the best fans and we have the best supporters.”

Get over it…

Like PJ, I understand the value of tradition, especially in college football. But he’s right. This isn’t about what you or I think. What matters more is that the players love what they are wearing out on that field and feel every reason possible to love where they are.

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If that means a new uniform combination every weekend then so be it. And honestly, I kind of love that the Gophers uniforms consistently show up in online weekly college football uniform rankings.

Here is PJ Fleck’s entire press conference from today. The uniform conversation begins at the 08:30 mark and lasts until the 13:15 mark. Below the video is the rest of the transcript during those nearly 5 minutes.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan