PHOTO: Elizabeth Flores -Star Tribune

Tony Dungy Believes PJ Fleck Can Make Minnesota the Next Clemson

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Tony Dungy is completely buying into PJ Fleck and the Gopher Football team. Speaking with Big Ten Radio on Sirius XM, the former Gophers legend believes the Gopher Football team is primed to take the next step and potentially become the next Clemson.

He isn’t talking about simply winning the Big Ten Championship or Rose Bowl. Dungy means the whole damn thing. A national championship. 



Dungy, the Super Bowl XLI winning head coach, has spent some time with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney recently. Having spent so much time there that he’s drawn comparisons to their meteoric rise and the Gophers’ current trajectory.

The number one reason Dungy believes the Gophers can do it? Head coach P.J. Fleck. 


“Clemson, I visited with Dabo Swinney a lot. It was not a place where you say automatically, hey if I take this Clemson job, we’re going to be national championship contenders in three years. It wasn’t looked at that way. The fact that it can happen at Clemson, the fact that it can happen at Minnesota, that makes college football great.”

Tony Dungy on Gopher-Clemson comparison

NOT YOUR USUAL BLUE BLOOD

When you think of blue blood college football programs only a handful come to mind. Ohio State, Alabama, USC, and Notre Dame are a few of them. And while Minnesota may have been in that category more than 60 years ago, they could be on their way back.

Looking at Clemson prior to Swinney, they were nothing to write home about. They hovered between six to nine wins per year for nearly two decades under Tommy Bowden. But once Swinney took over, it was a whole new world. Clemson won the ACC Championship in only Swinney’s fourth year at the helm. While adding two national championships and four playoff appearances between 2015-2019.

That progression is what Dungy was looking at when he made the Minnesota-Clemson comparison. Fleck is entering his fourth year as head coach. Fleck had some early hiccups but is finally seeing results. Those results led to an 11-2 finish in 2019 alongside victories over (#4) Penn State and (#12) Auburn in the Outback Bowl.



Throw in both coaches being vibrant, outspoken, and relatable, and the comparison isn’t too hard to see. Fleck relates to his team and he’s getting the best out of them.

THE PIECES ARE THERE

Gopher Football currently boasts quarterback Tanner Morgan receiving Heisman hype, receiver Rashod Bateman being listed as a pre-season All-American and a massive uptick in recruiting. The ingredients are there for the Gophers to take the next step under Mr. Row The Boat.

While the next step may be winning the Big Ten West. That is a huge mental hurdle for the program to make and should be much celebrated when it happens…in 2020. Then it is off to the races as they get back to competing for high-profile bowls and the playoff year in and out.

It won’t be easy. Gopher Football will have to perennially compete with the likes of Wisconsin just to make it to Indy and Ohio State to go any further. But the groundwork has been laid.

If Fleck can continue to see more high-end recruits choose the Twin Cities and develop them, there isn’t much stopping the boat from rowing all the way to national prestige.



Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan

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