PJ Fleck Pleads Gophers Fans and Boosters for More NIL Money
PJ Fleck and his 2023 Minnesota Gophers are 2-2 and coming off of one of the worst losses of the head coach’s 6+ year tenure, a 2nd half debacle at Northwestern last weekend. The pass game so far this season, which was supposed to be an offensive strength, is a mess.
Maybe worse yet, Joe Rossi’s normally dominant defense has been surprisingly mediocre the last two weeks. They even allowed the worst QB in the Big Ten, Northwestern’s Ben Bryant, throw for 396 yards and 4 touchdowns, 269 yards (and all 4 touchdowns) of which were thrown in the 2nd half.
True Freshman phenom Darius Taylor injured
To pour salt on the wound, true freshman phenom running back, Darius Taylor — who won his 3rd-straight Big Ten Freshman of the Week award on Monday — left Saturday’s game at the end of the 4th quarter with an apparent left leg injury that Fleck refuses to give any updates on.
Not only is Taylor on pace to break the University of Minnesota freshman record for rushing yards (1,376 yards: Darrell Thompson – 1986) and rushing touchdowns (10 TDs: Laurence Maroney – 2003), but if healthy, he’s likely to challenge the program’s all-time rushing record of 1,665 yards, set last season by Mohamed Ibrahim.
Freshman Darius Taylor has rushed for 346 yards after contact.— The Big Ten Huddle 🎙️ (@TheBigTenHuddle) September 26, 2023
1st among all Power 5 running backs🔥
He has rushed for 532 yards. That means 65% of his rushing yards have happened after contact 😳 pic.twitter.com/5KqAkZJ2uO
We’ll have a better idea of how serious Darius Taylor’s injury is when Fleck is forced to put out an injury report two hours prior to kickoff Saturday vs the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
But for those who want to recklessly speculate, it’s worth noting that Taylor’s injury wasn’t PJ Fleck’s biggest concern, when the Gopher head coach went on his media rounds early this week.
When doing his weekly radio show on KFAN Tuesday, for example, co-host Justin Gaard tried asking Fleck about Taylor’s injury and how he planned to manage the true freshman’s workload. Fleck, however, wasn’t worried about that. His biggest concern, when it comes to Darius Taylor, is another team reeling him away from Dinkytown in the offseason with fat stacks of NIL cash.
PJ Fleck pleads Gopher Nation for more NIL cash
Fleck hijacked Gaard’s question before he could finish it and used the opportunity to beg and plead anyone listening — University of Minnesota alumni, boosters and all Gopher football fans who care about winning — to contact and send money to the U of M’s official Name Image and Likeness Collective, Dinkytown Athletes, ASAP. Or, risk losing your new superstar running back, plus any other high-end player that NIL rich programs may target.
“[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.”
It’s by far the most blunt I’ve ever heard PJ Fleck — who is normally very hesitant to talk anything related to paying players or NIL collectives — fundraise for Name, Image and Likeness money. He told the audience, straight up, that Minnesota “will be a Triple-A ball club for someone else” if more NIL cash doesn’t roll in.
“So, if we wanna keep players, all these guys we have, they won’t be here next year [if we don’t get more NIL money to pay them]. Just making sure everybody understands. [That] our fans [understand]. [Our best players] won’t be here. So we’ll be a Triple-A ball club for somebody else. That is the reality and the truth of the situation. So please, contact Dinkytown Athletes…”
If he stays healthy, Taylor’s record-breaking freshman season will have ‘Name, Image and Likeness’ offers pouring in from helmet schools and rich athletic departments across the country. Fleck feels that pressure coming and he’s nervous.
Justin Gaard gives out the Dinkytown Athletes website, for fans to go help out, and reminds everyone that all proceeds earned from “Parlor Burgers” at Huntington Bank Stadium go straight to the Gophers’ NIL collective, Fleck sarcastically asks for someone to buy two million of them…
Gaard: “[Go to] DinkytownAthletes.com and if you go to [Huntington Bank Stadium], get a parlor burger cause all the money goes [to Dinkytown Athletes]. So, Saturday for homecoming right there in the West End zone go knock that out.”
Fleck: “Yeah, but somebody order like 2 million…”
You cannot blame PJ Fleck for feeling frustrated with the Minnesota Gophers current lot in NIL life. The University has been slow to move forward in this new age, given the PTSD around campus still lingering from the 1990’s men’s basketball scandal.
Fleck’s Transfer Portal PTSD is valid
Speaking of PTSD, you can sense Fleck is suffering from serious transfer portal PTSD, originating from a couple years back, when he lost two program-changing running backs in one offseason to the transfer portal.
Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving was a prized 4-star recruiting target in Minnesota’s 2021 class. PJ Fleck and his staff had to work overtime to get Bucky committed and even harder to keep him. But, they got the job done. Immediately as a freshman, Irving was a stand-out, both in practice and when called upon on game day.
And that happened quite frequently, after Mo Ibrahim suffered a ruptured achilles in week 1 vs Ohio State and was lost for the season. In Mo’s absence, Bucky totaled 699 yards and 4 touchdowns, popping off huge games vs Colorado, Maryland, Northwestern and in their bowl game that season vs West Virginia.
The only reason Irving didn’t get a chance to chase the same Gopher records, back then, that Darius Taylor is chasing now, was the other young stud running back he shared the 2021 backfield with, redshirt freshman, Ky Thomas, who rushed for his own 824 yards and 6 touchdowns that season.
Irving and Thomas were the perfect thunder/lightning combo. Fans 30 and older were calling them Marion Barber III + Laurence Maroney reincarnate. When the 2021 season came to a close, Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas were the future of Minnesota Gophers football.
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But then, Oregon called and offered Irving a massive NIL deal. It was an easy choice for Bucky, given his offer was $100’s of thousands more than what the Gophers could pay, especially after Mo Ibrahim decided to come back for the 2022 season. Shortly after Bucky hit the transfer portal, Ky Thomas entered too, eventually landing back in his home state with the Kansas Jayhawks.
PJ Fleck is right. No matter what happens in the 2023 season, both individually and as a team, the only chance the Minnesota Gophers have at being competitive in the Big Ten is by paying good players enough money to stick around. And until college football starts paying its own players, it’s up to fans, boosters and alumni to keep the program alive.
Donate to the cause at DinkytownAthletes.com.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan