3 years since P.J. Fleck arrived in Minnesota as new Gophers coach

Three years ago today, on Jan. 6, 2017, a small plane carrying just-hired Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck landed at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. In a tarmac interview with FOX 9's Hobie Artigue, Fleck said the first words he would deliver to his new players is "Guys, you didn't pick me."

"You had no choice whether I came or not, "Fleck said. "But I picked you, and I couldn't have picked a better group."

That group included this year's senior class, which led the Gophers to a program-record 11 wins, including an Outback Bowl victory over Auburn.

The Gophers had a historic season in Fleck's third year, winning 10 games for the first time in 115 years. They won seven Big Ten games for the first time in the 137-year history of the program, including a field-storming win over Penn State at TCF Bank Stadium, which lured ESPN's College Gameday to campus ahead of the Wisconsin game.

Nine Gophers earned All-Big Ten honors. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. became Minnesota’s first unanimous All-American since offensive lineman Greg Eslinger in 2005. Winfield’s 83 tackles leads the team, and his seven interceptions tied a single-season school record. 

Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman became Minnesota’s first wide receiver duo ever to each go for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Combine that with Rodney Smith going for more than 1,000 yards rushing, and the only other program to do that this season was LSU, the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.