PJ Fleck is scheduled for 12 seasons this fall. He arrives in a large SUV every Tuesday just before his hour-long appointment starting at noon.
Sometimes the sessions are easy: He shares the good times, how the circumstances made him feel, and possibly what to expect in the next week.
Other times, it’s harder to talk about: He dwells on what went wrong, how the failures made him feel, and tries to find the bigger picture.
After a 30–0 win over Colorado on September 18, the Gophers’ chief football coach’s KFAN radio show was of a promotional nature. After their worst loss in a four-plus season in Minnesota — a 14-10 upset loss to 31-point underdog Bowling Green last Saturday — the show was like going to therapy.
Hosts Mike Grimm and Justin Gard are sports commentators, but after such defeats, they better resemble counselors. At the Tipsy Steer restaurant in Roseville on Tuesday, Flake sat in a chair between them, but he may have been lying on a couch, venting his feelings.
“First of all, just want to apologize to all my fans,” Fleck said in the opening segment. “I know how hard this loss was for everyone.”
Speaking of therapy, gopher football fans may also be in need of some. With Flake, he felt like they were in a healthy relationship. In 2019, they enjoyed a double-digit win and win in the New Year’s Day bowl game. This season, he had extended the winning streak to 21 non-conference games, feeling he had a comfort blanket from bad losses to lesser foes.
When Minnesota’s conservative offense struggled to pass the ball last weekend, fans had flashbacks about the past trauma. To name a few: defeat to New Mexico State in the second game to Jerry Kill in 2011; Loss at the hands of South Dakota and North Dakota State in Tim Brewster’s rocky era, and a 44–41 overtime defeat to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl in 2006 to end Glenn Mason’s tenure.
When Fleck talked about the latest setback Tuesday, the 50 or so Gophers fans had no background in attendance. No murmur of conversation from the booth behind, and no sound of thumping plate.
“It’s not acceptable, but the word ’embarrassing,’ I’m not going to use,” Fleck said. “It takes away from Bowling Green’s achievements.”
Fleck tried to put the Bowling Green defeat into perspective at Sunday’s team meeting. How 25 percent of Power Five teams have lost to a Group of Five or FCS school this season and how Minnesota’s non-conference streak was at its best as Purdue won 24 straight from 1926–1933.
“It doesn’t make our players feel any better, but it gives them perspective,” Fleck said.
Fleck and the Gophers (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) play against Purdue (3-1, 1-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette to resume Big Ten Conference games react to. ind
Another added perspective is what Northwestern did in 2018. After falling 1–2 with a loss to Akron, the Wildcats returned to lead 8–1 in Big Ten play and represented the West Division in the conference championship game. After the Bowling Green defeat, some Gophers players said that all of their season’s goals were attainable.
Fleck isn’t the only one who thinks talking is beneficial. The U players held a brief meeting in Tuesday’s practice to put into action what came out of Sunday’s team meeting.
“I think the team has made the decision,” said defensive lineman Boye Mafe. “I mean we came on Sunday and we had a talk. We actually sat down and said we had to make a decision, it’s going to the Big Ten game, it’s going to be our loss in the out-of-conference game. Coming up… we have to. We know last week wasn’t good enough. We know as a team that we didn’t play to the best of our ability.
“If we want to talk about who we are and how we play, we have to show that this week and move on,” he continued. “It’s not just about this week or this next opponent, it’s about the whole season. If we want to do what we want to do with this season, we have to really show up and really execute.” Will happen. ”
Defensive end Thomas Rush called it a “heart-to-heart conversation” and said, “We just wanted to make sure people know you can’t be too short now.”
Fleck has repeatedly stated, sometimes during his radio shows, that the line of success for the program does not necessarily mean that it will be a steady, uninterrupted climb. In 2017, he wrote a red line on a piece of paper as if it were a graph: it went up and down, up and down, but slowly climbed.
“We define the line of success as part of the process,” Rush said Tuesday afternoon. “You’ll always have ups and downs. You’ll never be in the same place. You’ll go up and you’ll have a great time, you’ll be going down and you’ll have a bad time. It never stays the same. It’s those One of the things where you can never let it affect you a certain way.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Fleck’s hour-long therapy session, accidentally, ran alongside the radio show.
“It’s not about hitting the panic button, and it’s not about all or nothing,” he said. “We said that from day one we are going to create a program that hopefully you all can be really proud of on and off the field. Saturday was unacceptable. Hundred percent is unacceptable in every field.”
While this week’s radio show started off quietly, perhaps even sadly, it improved.
“I have a list of all the things (that were unacceptable) on this yellow fancy paper, if you want to look at it,” said Fleck, grabbing a torn page from a legal pad.
Some fans laughed.
“Pass it around the restaurant,” joked the guard.
“Show and tell,” Flake played along.
At another point, Fleck thanked fans for listening. This generated some applause and self-reflection. “Are they listening or just grumbling about me in their heads?” Fleck said.
Going into a commercial break, the bumper music was “Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy. Some songs fit.
everyone is working for the weekend
everyone wants a new romance
Everybody’s going off the deep end
Everybody needs a second chance, oh
you want a piece of my heart
you better start from the beginning
you wanna be on the show
let’s go baby
In the back of the show, Fleck shared a story about how one of his sons wouldn’t want to play video games with dad this summer because Fleck would get crushed. Fleck also offered a story about how employee Bradley Parker was so relentless trying to get a job under Fleck, and how Parker is now the U’s director of football administration.
To conclude Parker’s story, Fleck said, “It was a very long answer, but it’s kind of therapy.”
Some in the crowd laughed.
“I want to thank everyone for smiling, okay,” Flake continued. “I meant what I said: We’re going to be positive through anything. If someone is expecting me to be negative, that’s never going to happen. I just appreciate everyone’s smiles.” I know everyone is disappointed and upset, but we are too. We won’t bow our heads.”
Before long, time had run out, and there was some resumption for all involved coming from the session.