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Jimbo Fisher's firing shows how low the bar is for PJ Fleck at Minnesota

While Fleck still has a job, Fisher was fired for leading A&M to a 6-4 record.
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There were two different universes of college football on display Saturday afternoon.

One was in West Lafayette, Ind. where the Purdue Boilermakers defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 49-30. The other was in College Station, Texas where the Texas A&M Aggies dismantled Mississippi State 51-10.

One of these coaches got fired on Sunday morning...and it wasn't P.J. Fleck.

Texas A&M on Sunday will reportedly fire head coach Jimbo Fisher after six seasons. While Fisher and Fleck are in different tiers, they also reside in different universes where the expectations are obviously much lower at Minnesota than in the SEC.

It starts with the track record that Fleck has established at Minnesota. In six seasons with the Gophers, Fleck has compiled a 49-32 record and a .605 winning percentage. He's won nine games in each of the previous two seasons and Minnesota also had its best season in over a century when they went 11-2 and defeated Auburn in the Outback Bowl in 2019.

The Gophers have also received a boost in recruiting during Fleck's tenure. Fleck's recruiting classes have ranked in the top 50 of 247Sports' composite rankings three times and have ranked in the top 60 six times, and are currently ranked 47th this season.

By many measures, the Gophers have had plenty of success under Fleck. But it's staggering when you compare it to Fisher's track record that is getting him fired at Texas A&M, which oh by the way will cost the university an estimated $76 million in buyout money. 

CoachOverall recordConference record

Jimbo Fisher 2018-2023


27-21 in SEC

P.J. Fleck 2017-2023


29-30 in Big Ten

Fisher went 83-23 with a national title in eight seasons at Florida State before coming over to Texas A&M after a 5-6 season with the Seminoles in 2018. The Aggies went 45-25 with a .643 winning percentage in Fisher's six seasons and ranked in the top 10 of recruiting five times including delivering the No. 1 overall class in 2022.

But like Fleck, the Aggies didn't win a division title during his tenure and Texas A&M didn't have a pop-up season like the Gophers had in 2019. Instead, Fisher was stuck in the middle and it currently has him without a job.

Gopher fans could look at this and demand this is the standard that Fleck should be held, but it's unreasonable considering where Minnesota was before his arrival in 2017. 

Before the last two seasons, the last time the Gophers won nine or more games in back-to-back seasons was 1904 and 1905. The Gophers also had cracked the top 50 of recruiting rankings just once (2016) since 247Sports began its rankings in 2010.

But this doesn't matter to a growing group of angry Gopher fans and pundits who are voicing frustrations after Minnesota gave up more than 600 yards of offense in a blowout loss to a Purdue team that was 2-7 before facing the Gophers. 

So why does Fleck's tenure feel so disappointing? While he has brought Minnesota back to respectability, he has yet to bring them back to relevancy.

To Fleck's credit, this is tough to do in the modern era of college football. With four teams vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Gophers' best bet is to win their division, go to the championship game and see what happens against one of the mega powers in Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

Although the playoff will expand to 12 teams next season, the Gophers won't have the lousy West Division to fall back on and will have to battle more quality teams when UCLA, Oregon, USC and Washington join the Big Ten next fall.

In addition to the competition on the field, Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) has also created problems. While the Gophers are marketing the Dinkytown Collective and giving their players free Gushers, there are other schools with a lot more money to play with, like USC, which paid Jordan Addison $3.5 million to transfer from Pittsburgh after he won the Biletinikoff Award in 2021.

Even Fisher's recruiting success has been tied to money as Alabama's Nick Saban accused him of buying his top-ranked recruiting class in 2022.

“We were second in recruiting last year, A&M was first,” Saban said in the spring of 2022. “A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image, and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. But I don’t know if we will be able to sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it.” 

The Gophers' tardiness in the world of NIL has created the illusion of a lack of progress within the program and why Fleck mentioned his team's youth when asked about the loss to Purdue on Saturday. But it doesn't excuse a lot of the game management issues that have led to the Gophers being unable to reach the low bar that is set for them.

The Gophers are unlikely to find someone that will transform them into the next Georgia, Alabama or Clemson, which is where the bar was set for Fisher at Texas A&M. But their realistic outcome is to resemble something like Kirk Ferentz has put together at Iowa where he has a 194-117 record, .624 winning percentage and 15 seasons with eight or more wins in 25 years with the Hawkeyes.

Even if games like Saturday came against Michigan or Ohio State, Gophers fans would be more forgiving. But they're coming against teams like Purdue, who entered Saturday last in the West with a 1-5 record and hadn't scored more than 14 points in four straight games.

It was the type of team that Fisher throttled on Saturday before getting canned on Sunday, and it shows just how low the bar is for Fleck and the Gophers to clear to be considered a success at Minnesota.