MINNEAPOLIS - PJ Fleck said it when he was hired three years ago, and he reiterated as much on Tuesday: He wants to bring a championship back to the University of Minnesota football program.
Fleck and the Gophers reached an agreement Tuesday that will keep him leading the Gophers football program through the 2026 season. He signed a seven-year contract extension, worth roughly $4.6 million annually, plus incentives.
The news comes just days before No. 13-ranked Minnesota (8-0, 5-0) hosts No. 5-ranked Penn State (8-0) on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. It’s the biggest home game for the Gophers in 16 years.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of young men, and they were huge in this decision. I love coaching them every single day. This is a very fun team, it’s a very fun culture, it’s very different, but I love these young men. I love them as my own sons,” Fleck said Tuesday.
Usually punctual for his weekly news conference, Fleck was about 30 minutes late after wrapping up his weekly radio show and going over the terms of his new contract before putting pen to paper. Reports had emerged that an extension might be coming after his name had been linked to the now open head coaching job at Florida State after Willie Taggart’s firing.
USC coach Clay Helton is also on the hot seat, and Fleck had been put on lists as a possible replacement there. One of the terms of Fleck’s new contract is a $10 million buyout after next season. Meaning if another school comes calling for his services, they’ll have to pay up.
‘When we made this hire, when you have success, people are going to come after you. It’s just part of what we do every day,” Gophers Athletic Director Mark Coyle said Tuesday. “I think PJ believes in what we’re trying to do here as a department. We wanted to shake the tree when we hired PJ, we were very, very intentional when we hired him.”
Fleck is 20-13 with the Gophers in two-plus seasons. Minnesota beat Wisconsin for the first time in 15 years to end last season earning bowl eligibility. The Gophers’ 8-0 start this year is their best since 1941, and their 5-0 start in Big Ten play is the program’s best since 1961.
Fleck has also added the off the field component to his program. Coyle mentioned the team’s grade point average is its highest in school history. Players are regularly participating in charitable causes throughout the Twin Cities. They are serving and giving, and it’s translating to success on Saturdays.
It’s something Fleck admits is much larger than himself.
“It’s not just about the head coach, the head coach is only as good as the people that work for them, period,” Fleck said. “I’m a perfect example of that, a perfect example of having an elite staff.”
Fleck’s contract, which makes him the seventh-highest paid head coach in the Big Ten, includes raises for all of his assistant coaches. His players are excited for him, as the biggest home game in their program’s history is four days away.
“It’s really exciting for coach and for our coaching staff and for our program as well. Just moving forward, taking the next right step and like coached talked about, just what we’re building here,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “It’s just really exciting, the right next step for us and for coach.”
Thomas Barber, who is fourth on Minnesota’s defense with 40 tackles through eight games, called the news of Fleck’s extension “pretty awesome.”
“I can see it means a lot to the state of Minnesota. I was actually just thinking, my family has had seven coaches between the four of us, so seeing that contract extension is pretty awesome for me to see. Just having stability in the program and seeing what he’s built up,” Barber said.
Fleck wants to build a champion with the Gopher football program, something that hasn’t been done in 52 years. But he also wanted to send a clear message to his players and recruits that he wants to be the one there to help lead them to it.
While fans are focusing on the team’s No. 13 ranking, a chance at the Big Ten West title and potentially greater things, Fleck is focused on the journey and process it takes to get there. National projections had the Gophers this year mostly towards the bottom of the division.
Fleck, at 38, is the second-youngest Division I football coach to reach 50 career wins. He took Western Michigan from 1-11 his first season to 13-0 and a loss to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl before Coyle brought him to Minnesota.
With the Gophers, he’s gone from 5-7, to 7-6 and now 8-0, and potentially in the College Football Playoff Conversation.
“He laid out a very specific plan of what he was going to do at Minnesota in that initial meeting, and he has not missed any of the things he talked about,” Coyle said. “He’s hit all those bench marks and exceeded them, so that’s probably why we felt like this was the right time to do this.”
He wants to build a champion, but he wants it to be sustainable. He’s also not listening to people who think his stay in Minnesota remains temporary despite Tuesday’s extension.
“Minnesota has everything, and I feel like we can get to where we say we want to be. We’re sitting 8-0 right now, I think a lot of people are shocked by that. Those players back there are not shocked. The staff members are not shocked, our four walls are not shocked,” Fleck said. “You can have that, plus you can have everything else. Do you want a living or do you want to live a life? Here you can live a life, plus have your job that you love in an area that you love with people that you just love working with, and it’s a tremendous combination.”
The first taping of the P.J. Fleck show since the extension will be taped at Coffman Memorial Union Wednesday at 12:15 p.m.