The PJ Fleck to USC Rumors are Already Running Amuck

PHOTO: JEFF WHEELER, STAR TRIBUNE

So, University of Southern California fired their head football coach on Monday afternoon, after just two games into the 2021 season. Outside of the story running nationally for the next 48 hours, that news wouldn’t matter to Minnesota Gophers fans. But when PJ Fleck is your head football coach, an open job at USC means a lot.

A lot of rumors. And they’re already pouring in from a variety of sources. Fleck has been rumored as a possible replacement at USC by big shots at ESPN, FOX, Yahoo Sports, Athlon Sports, The Athletic and 247Sports. Local outlets, including the OC Register, LA Times, and California News Times have mentioned PJ, as well. The job opened up two hours ago.

Should we be concerned?

Yes, we should always be concerned when PJ Fleck is mentioned in the college football coaching carousel. Especially when it’s a helmet school with national title aspirations. Part of that concern is, admittedly, just the Minnesota mentality built into all of us. But, there is some cause for concern.

USC is widely seen as a school that should regularly contend for a national championship. They just need a resurrection. Any coach who can role into Southern Cal and get the local kids to stay home, would already be on that fast track. Southern California is loaded with high school football talent. They’ve struggled to keep them home, though recently. The Minnesota Gophers are not that. PJ believes he can build that, but even if true, it would take a lot more time. We’re just trying to catch up with Wisconsin and Iowa.

Much more than national clout, however, I worry about money. In the statement released by USC AD Mike Bohn, officially addressing the dismissal of Clay Helton, it’s very clear that winning will come first during this search and money will, and already has, come last. The University of Southern California is going to break the bank on this hire. And there is ZERO chance the University of Minnesota would get close to matching, if USC come after Fleck.

The U of M is too focused on the pushback they’ve received for eliminating men’s indoor track. Fleck makes $4.6 million per season (according to USA Today Sports), which ranks in the top-25. The next USC coach will make over $5 million and possibly much more, depending who has interest.

Other candidates

Some of the other candidates mentioned as possible replacements for Helton seem out of grasp. Names like Urban Meyer, who just took an NFL head coaching job in Jacksonville; Mario Cristobal, who already coaches at a better program in the same area; and James Franklin, who coaches the only team in the Big Ten East who can even dream of challenging Ohio State. Why would any of those “candidates” be interested in starting a program over in SoCal?

Coaches who I could see USC being more interested in than PJ, that should be gettable, include Matt Campbell (Iowa State), Luke Fickell (Cincinnati) and Greg Schiano (Rutgers). The guys listed in the last paragraph feel more like a wish list. These are the dudes who would be competing with PJ Fleck, should he be interested.

Now, it’s not like Fleck would be leaving next week, if chosen and he accepted. The hiring process at USC is expected to take months and shouldn’t finish until the 2021 college football season is over. That means we have a full season of rumors to fight off. Let the games begin.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan