The Athletic Ranks PJ Fleck in its Top-25 Coaches of CFB

Photo: Star Tribune


PJ Fleck has been catching the eyes and ears of the national sports media, even before he sat down with Mark Coyle to interview for the head coaching job at Minnesota.

Sure, he was yelling a lot and had slogans for everything… but he was first noticed because he was winning at Western Michigan, eventually leading them on an undefeated season and Cotton Bowl birth in 2017.

Mark Coyle was then blown away during lunch (kind of) at Gibson’s, with Fleck in Chicago, and the rest has become history. Minnesota media had no idea what was about to hit them (including a tiny personal MN sports blog that first hit the “publish” in February of that year).

It’s been 3 years since that fateful Chicago meeting that landed PJ here. Yet, he’s already brought ESPN preseason features and College Gameday broadcasts to campus. 2019 was one of the most historic seasons in this program’s illustrious history on the field, too. Fleck led the Gophers to their first 11-win season since 1904 and to only its second New Year’s Bowl Game since 1961. Oh yeah, they won that bowl game, too.

With all of that success, nobody expected the PJ Fleck hype train to slow down this offseason…. and it hasn’t. CFB News ranked PJ as one of the hottest coaches in the country, but now his celebrity has reached The Athletic (which carries its own celebrity status these days).

The Athletic released its Top-25 College Football coaches list this morning and they ranked PJ at #12 in the country. Here’s what they had to say about the University of Minnesota Head Coach:


12. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota: First he engineered a historic turnaround at Western Michigan, leading the long-downtrodden program to a 13-win season in 2016. Three years and another rebuilding job later, Fleck led Minnesota to its first 11-win season. He may be incredibly unorthodox, but it’s pretty clear at this point the guy knows what he’s doing.

The Athletic – Stewart Mandel

Well, it’s not our first 11-win season, Stewart, unless you aren’t counting seasons (1904 and earlier) where we were playing some of our games against high school football teams? I don’t know why you wouldn’t count those seasons though…

I haven’t looked into it, but I feel Stewart wasn’t a Fleck believer until recently. If his last sentence doesn’t give that away, then you might need a reading comprehension exam.

Fleck isn’t that unorthodox… he just talks louder and tells us more than other coaches do. If you listen to what he’s saying or cover what he actually does with his team (like I do first-hand) then you’d realize Fleck is as old-school as it gets, when you get to his actual coaching philosophy.

At the end of the day, PJ Fleck is just a better coach than what almost any other team has. That’s why I wrote a couple of weeks ago, that if we don’t pay him and his staff like one of the best in the country, we will lose him, just like we’ve already lost a lot of his (former) staff.

Other Coaches of Note:

Only two Big Ten coaches made the list ahead of PJ Fleck and those were Penn State’s, James Franklin (#7) and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst (#9). PJ finished ahead of Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (#19). They were the only four Big Ten coaches who made the list.

However, PJ Fleck and his staff….. are the 11th-highest paid in the Big Ten. Compute that.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan