P.J. Fleck Looks to Bring Back Gopher Glory Days of Half-Century Ago


Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck is aiming to restore, and by that he literally said “restoar” with an “oar” the glory of Golden Gophers football. He said so at Big Ten Media Days, while wearing his oar tie clip. Now you may be saying to yourself- don’t the Gophers have to actually have some glory days first? Before they can be restored?

Well, if you’re a Baby Boomer you might have some awareness of when the Gophers were golden, but really the program’s high times happened so long ago that you’d have to be a member of the Silent Generation to remember it.

Fleck, with his roster of Generation Z players, is aiming to make Gopher football national relevance something that Gen Xers and Millenials can experience.

“We’re one of the most traditional powerhouses in college football.” Fleck said to the media at his podium during the breakout session at the Hilton Chicago.

“You guys are all looking at me, like what? Seven national championships, 18 Big Ten championships- that puts us in the top five in the country. Now it hasn’t happened since the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, but we want to be the bridge.”

“We want to the be that restoration bridge, restore with an “oar,” for oar, for the row the boat. We want to be able to connect that from the past to where we are now to into the future and we feel we can.”

“If I didn’t feel that we could win championships, Big Ten, national championships- then I wouldn’t have come here. I wouldn’t have brought my staff here, I wouldn’t sell it to recruits that way.”

Minnesota is one of the oldest programs in college football, as they started playing in 1882. They are a charter member of the Big Ten Conference, being in the league since its inception in 1896 as the Western Conference.

Their claimed seven national championships were in the following seasons: 1904, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941, and 1960. Their first and only Rose Bowl victory was well more than a half-century ago.

Their last Big Ten title (tied) was in 1967, two years before the moon landing. Fleck is looking more towards the future than the past of course.

“We’ve got a top 25 class for ’20, multiple recruits for ’21, hasn’t happened at Minnesota, ever. So we’re working on it,” the Sugar Grove, Illinois native said in his home state.

Media Days are of course, not actually about news, but about each program, player and coach presenting their message for the upcoming season. Think of it as little more than a college football version of a political stump speech.


It’s a lot of talking without ever actually saying anything, but Fleck is such an engaging, colorful and interesting personality that he’s way better at the format than 99% of the people who participate in it. You may not buy what the former Western Michigan coach is selling, but if you spend enough time around him- you’ll want to believe in it.

According to Fleck, Minnesota won their last game (a rout of Wisconsin that ended their 14 year drought in the Paul Bunyan Ax trophy series) and their bowl game for the first time in 135 years of Minnesota football history. He also cited his win in the Motor City over Georgia Tech in the postseason as the largest margin of victory in a bowl game in Minnesota history.

Expectations for Minnesota this year are kind of all over the map this talking season. Lindy’s projects them 38th nationally, but only 5th in the Big Ten West.


No one is really picking them to win the west division and reach the conference title game, as the favorites, so far have been Nebraska and Iowa. However, P.J. Fleck had one of the youngest teams in the nation last year, and now they’re all older and more experienced.

They have eight returning starters on offense and six on defense. And according to one metric, “returning production,” the Gophers are first in the Big Ten. Minnesota returns 90% of their production on offense, 66% on defense.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.


  1. […] Should Fleck replicate what he did at WMU, accomplishing the historically good season in year four, then 2020 would see Minnesota back to the ultimate Golden Gophers glory days from long long ago. […]

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