MINNEAPOLIS - P.J. Fleck can’t cure cancer and he isn’t a miracle worker, but he can provide words of motivation and inspiration in the most trying of circumstances.
He was put to the test last Tuesday, having to address the University of Minnesota football team after the most devastating of circumstances when it comes to college athletics. The Big Ten announced it was postponing fall sports, including football, due to uncertainties with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just six days before that, hopes were high after the league unveiled a 10-game, conference-only schedule. Coming off an 11-2 season, the program’s best in 115 years, the Gophers won’t get a chance to take the next step until the spring of 2021 at the earliest.
In speaking with reporters late last week, Fleck says his program’s culture is ready for anything thrown at it. Even a global health pandemic.
“This is what Row the Boat is all about. We’re in uncharted waters, we’re in a pandemic, nobody knows. You’ve got to keep your oar in the water and just keep rowing,” Fleck said.
For Fleck, that means keeping in constant communication with his players, and putting player health and safety before anything else.
When Fleck spoke with reporters last week, he had held individual meetings with 30 of his players to get their thoughts on the Big Ten shutting down football in the fall. The disappointment was obvious, but Fleck said every single player, when asked, said the same thing. The Big Ten made the right call.
“The health and safety of our players is the No. 1 thing in everybody’s mind right now, period. Nothing comes before that. The health and safety of our players has to be at the forefront of everything we do,” Fleck said.
Fleck held a team meeting last week shortly after getting the news that there wouldn’t be football games in the fall. No tailgating, no band, no Ski-U-March and no running out of the tunnel at TCF Bank Stadium before kickoff. Star receiver Rashod Bateman had already opted out of the season due to an asthma condition, meaning Tanner Morgan is losing 78 percent of his completions from 2019 the next time he takes the field.
He had ever player stand up and look at each other. The message? The more time they have together to improve, the better.
“You can’t sell something to a kid that’s B.S., not in 2020, it’s got to be real. They’ve got to see it, touch it, feel it, experience it and they have,” Fleck said. “The more time we have with our team without playing, the more time we have to build this football team, the better we’re going to be.”