New Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck has never been accused of being short on energy. From his pregame sprints to bouncing all over the sideline during games and jumping into dogpiles with his players in postgame celebrations, Fleck makes the Energizer Bunny jealous with his endless vigor.
That’s why Fleck was the perfect candidate to revive Minnesota on the recruiting trail. After the Gophers were mired in a controversy surrounding former coach Tracy Claeys’ departure, prospects were hesitant to jump on board and Minnesota fell way behind Big Ten recruiting rivals.
But since Fleck’s arrival on Jan. 6, the Gophers have added 13 commitments, including coveted receivers Chris Bell and Harry Van Dyne, top-60 offensive guard John Michael Schmitz and fast-rising cornerback Demetrius Douglas.
“Recruiting. Recruiting. And then when we get done recruiting, we’re going to recruit some more,” Fleck said at last week’s American Football Coaches Association award show. “Then when we get done recruiting some more, we’re going recruit even more. It’s not just the student-athletes at high schools and junior colleges, it’s our own players. We need to recruit our players into our culture. Teach them to embrace it. That’s what we’re excited and looking forward to.”
Fleck is also big on selling the right things to prospects. Some media members, and even rival recruiters, have accused Fleck of making things all about him, but it’s clear when talking to him that that’s hardly the case. It’s the type of players he has been able to attract to his teams that have helped him win games and draw the spotlight.
“I’ve never sold anything,” Fleck said. “I’m just me. I’m me. We are our culture. There are guys that fit that. There are guys that don’t fit that. But when you are yourself, you don’t have to worry about anything that you say or anything that you do. You are yourself, and you are your culture. I think that’s been the key to our success and will be the key to our success at Minnesota.
“The players are the key to the success. I know this, it’s very simple. I can be a really good football coach, but if we don’t have players, we don’t have culture, and we don’t have talented individuals academically, athletically and socially, I’m going to have the worst team in the country. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m going to get the best players and the best people we possibly can.”
Fleck also said a big part of his recruiting plan at Minnesota is to get kids on campus as many times as possible. Although he was not able to fully execute that plan with high school prospects in the senior class because he was hired less than a month before signing day, junior and sophomore targets are already making their way to campus more than they did under the previous Minnesota staff.
“That’s how we had success at Western Michigan,” Fleck said. “A lot of guys came to our campus between 16 and 18 times when we were at Western Michigan, and that paid off. It’s something we’re going to work on achieving at Minnesota. We’re so big on our culture and getting recruits to experience the culture. Not everybody is for us — same with other schools. We’ve got to find that right fit.
“A building, a logo and a conference isn’t going be a fit for people. People make the world go ’round. People make you better, and that’s what we want people to experience at the University of Minnesota.”
If the few weeks of Fleck’s time at Minnesota are any indication, the Gophers are going to do some real damage on the recruiting trail going head-to-head against Big Ten rivals and dipping into Big 12 territory. Fleck’s said he’s confident “Minnesota’s recruiting future looks bright,” but also don’t be surprised if the Gophers’ staff pulls off a few recruiting shockers in the final weeks leading up to signing day.
“We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves,” Fleck said.