P.J. Fleck, Pat Fitzgerald on Their Power Lunch a Decade Ago


pat fitzgerald northwestern football

(Flashback: with Minnesota visiting Northwestern this week, we re-update this piece from 2017)

This past summer, Minnesota Golden Gophers Coach P.J. Fleck opened up the early morning session of B1G Media Days. His INTENSE HIGH ENERGY style was no doubt placed in this specific slot to help supplement the caffeine for everyone. Fleck was immediately followed by Northwestern head man Pat Fitzgerald, and the juxtaposition of the two head coaches invites a recall of their famous meeting of the minds a decade ago. 

“Pat Fitzgerald, I remember 10 years ago I came here to Chicago to meet Pat and just had lunch, talked to me about what being a head coach was all about,” Fleck said in his opening statement on dais.

“I knew I wanted to be a head coach.”

pj fleck

One season ago, Fleck’s Western Michigan team came to Northwestern and beat the Wildcats, and in the run-up to that game Fleck told the media this story during the MAC conference call.

“When I was an assistant at Northern Illinois, I would call coaches and ask them if I could just take them to lunch,” Fleck said.

“He was the only coach that ever said yes; literally,” the Sugar Grove, IL native and former NIU Huskies star continued.

“I drove to Evanston and took him out to lunch and here I am just a position coach in the Mid-American Conference and he’s a Head Coach in the Big Ten, and he was willing to share a lot of things with me. I have a ton of respect for him, always have, always will and I think he’s one of the best coaches in the country.

“Not just the collegiate level but NFL, high school, in all of football.”


Even if you’re not a college football fan, you’ve got to greatly admire what Fitzgerald did there. It was truly benevolent. He didn’t have to do that, but because he did, a huge impression was made on Fleck.

“I admire him, he’s a guy that I emulated my career after and wanted to be like.”

According to Fleck, Fitzgerald gave him a 30 minute window to work with, if he could make it from DeKalb to Evanston. They went to Bluestone, a little burger place just a few blocks west of Ryan Field. Fleck said that when Fitz made the offer he hightailed it for the door like Fred Flintstone rapidly shuffles his feet to start his car.

He also said that Fitzgerald would not let him pay for the meal.

“The one quote he had was I don’t believe in management, you manage machines. Leaders inspire people, I believe in leadership,” Fleck said this past Tuesday at B1G Media Day.

“And he told me you don’t have to be a coordinator to be a head coach, can you lead men? Can you inspire and make a difference, it’s what coaches do.”

“Can you make people’s lives extraordinary? That’s what our whole talk was about.”

You can hear Phillip John Fleck tell the story in the audio below (around the 4:00 minute mark)

Pat Fitzgerald was asked about the meeting too.

“I saw a guy that was very driven. He wanted to learn and grow and ask me questions about how I manage things as a young head football coach and how I do things on a day-to-day basis with the staff, all the way to the players, everything in between,”he said.

“Two Chicago guys, and obviously his relationship with Jim Phillips and some other coaches that I knew.”

“I could tell he had goals about what he wanted to do, and I think we had a good conversation,” Fitzgerald continued.

Yes, these two Chicagoland products and high energy guys are now B1G West Division rivals. The Chicagoland angle is a big part of the Northwestern football marketing pitch this season, and you can watch the Pat Fitzgerald ad over at this link.


“I’m very proud to be a Chicagoan,” Fitzgerald said.

“I’m very proud of playing at Northwestern and being from Orland Park. I think it’s a pretty cool campaign, especially with you look at our two superstars in the backfield with Clayton and Justin both being Chicagoans, and Chris Collins being from Chicagoland too.”

“I think I’ll look a lot tougher than Chris in my billboards with actually having a neck roll compared to his schmedium tank top that he’ll have on in his billboard. But that’s okay. He can shoot a 3-pointer; I can bench press. Lot of differences there.”.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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