P.J. Fleck on His True Coaching Role Model Pat Fitzgerald


pj fleck

(With Minnesota visiting Northwestern this week, we flashback to this piece from summer, 2019)

Other than himself, obviously, there is probably one specific individual that Minnesota mentor P.J. Fleck would have win the Big Ten Coach of the Year award. That would be the current reigning the B1GCOY, Fleck’s coaching mentor, Northwestern head man Pat Fitzgerald.

Back when Fleck was just starting out in his coaching career, working as an assistant at his alma mater, Northern Illinois, he called up all the coaches in his contacts and offered to take them out to lunch and talk shop. The aim was to pick their brains and get some pro tips about how to move up the ladder.

pat fitzgerald

One, yes, only one took him up on that offer and that was Fitzgerald.

“He’s a trail blazer,” Fleck said of Fitz at Media Day.

“Somebody to have that kind of job security at your alma mater in your hometown? That’s unheard of in this profession. A lot of people would rest on their laurels because it is their alma mater, (but) not Pat. He’s changed Northwestern forever, it’s a football powerhouse, as well as an academic powerhouse.”

Like Fitzgerald, Fleck hails from the Chicagoland area, and focuses on recruiting players from the region, or players in the Chicago mold, to build up his program.

Fitzgerald overcame a brutally awful pre-conference showing last season to roll up an 8-1 league record and win the Big Ten West with a full two weeks left on the season. It was a no-brainer for Fitz to win COY in 2018.

This year though, most prognosticators are picking Iowa, Nebraska or Wisconsin to win the division. No one seems to be picking Northwestern or Minnesota this preseason.

pat fitzgerald

“That facility rivals any in the country,” P.J. Fleck said of Northwestern’s practice facility.

“It might be the best in the country, based on the view (of Lake Michigan) they have, the land they have. He’s one of the most charismatic, big hearted, kind guys you’ll ever meet and real people you’ll ever meet and that’s why I love him.”

“Best advice he ever gave me why was, be me and I’ve been me whether people like me or don’t like me, I’m me and he is real. He’s Pat Fitzgerald. He’s him- that’s why I admire him so much.”

Fleck hopes to build up Minnesota, or bring them back to the glory days of long long ago, and in doing so become as well-esteemed in the Twin Cities as Fitzgerald currently is in Evanston.

For what it’s worth, Fleck is definitely still a legend in DeKalb, Illinois these days.

P.J. Fleck continued to praise Pat Fitzgerald.

“To have him in the conference, have him as friend for three hours (each year, when the two teams play) we don’t like each other, but other than that he’s been a wonderful role model especially as a young head coach.

“I was the youngest head coach in the country for four straight years- that’s very difficult to do. To have him as a role model to show him how to do it your way, is special.”

The two teams will meet in Evanston on November 23rd. Northwestern won at Minnesota last year 24-14, and thrashed the Gophers 39-0 at home in 2017.

The two coaches also met in the 2016 season opener, with Fleck’s Western Michigan Broncos emerging triumphant.

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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