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Minnesota AD Mark Coyle not jumping off PJ Fleck's boat

“I’m absolutely convinced P.J. is the right guy,” Coyle said.
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Struggles be darned, University of Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle is not prepared to move on from football coach P.J. Fleck, instead remaining aboard Fleck's boat with oar in hand, ready to navigate rough waters. 

“I’m absolutely convinced P.J. is the right guy,” Coyle told KFAN's Justin Gaard on the radio pregame show before Saturday's loss 37-3 loss to Ohio State. “Nobody wants to win more than he does.”

Minnesota is 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten, having dropped three straight to Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State. Three losses have been cataclysmic to Gopher fans starving for consistency. 

Against Northwestern, the Gophers blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. The loss to Illinois happened after a defensive breakdown in the final minute. And Purdue had only two wins and hadn't scored more than 14 points in a game in more than a month before they put up 600 yards of offense and throttled Fleck's team 49-30. 

Fleck has said the blame is on him and the coaching staff while mixing in the caveat that the 2023 Gophers are young and dealing with a lot of injuries while trying to compete against teams that are loaded with NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) money to recruit the best players in the country. 

After losing to Ohio State, Fleck reiterated what he said after the Purdue loss: Expectations for him in his seventh season at Minnesota have changed due to the NIL money and the transfer portal making it difficult remain competetive. 

"This has nothing to do with Year 7," Fleck said Saturday in his postgame press conference. "The last two years are completely different than anything college football has ever seen. So it's not like, 'Hey, Year 7, you should just be reloading and this.' We're pretty young right now and there are freshmen running all over the field. You're not going to beat the No. 2 team in the country with freshmen running all over the field. But again, it's investment towards the future. And sooner or later, a program like us, we're going to have to do that."

Here's what Fleck said after the 19-point loss to Purdue. 

"I know it's not where everybody wants it to be, but the Year 7 piece, that doesn't make a lot of sense when you're talking about 'It's Year 7, we should be X, Y and Z.' With the portal and NIL and all those things, we knew we had an experienced team last year, this team was going to get a lot younger, a lot more inexperienced really quickly, especially with the way we run our program.

"We showed our team that yesterday. There's a bunch of different teams that have had 10 wins, 9 wins, 11 wins, whatever and then boom, there's a year they had to be able to get maybe an injury bug or they had to be able to get a little younger first and that's what we've showed them, that it happens all over the country to a lot of different teams."

Long story short: Fleck is making it as clear as he possibly can that fans should expect routine growing pains, or cycles of success and failure, because without a lot more NIL money the coaching staff is going to have to develop players rather than land a lot of high-end recruits and transfers. 


Nov 12, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck leads his team out onto the field before the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Huntington Bank Stadium. 

Beside the expectations, Coyle says fleck remains a hot commodity whenever coaching vacancies pop up around the country. 

“If you look at these openings, his name pops up almost every time, so that is why we have to continue to be creative and do everything we can to keep him here," Coyle said in the KFAN pregame show. 

Fleck and the Gophers wrap up the regular season against Wisconsin on Saturday, Nov. 25 at Huntington Bank Stadium.