'This is a life program': P.J. Fleck talks Gopher football with Jim Rome

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck during a Big Ten conference football game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Iowa Hawkeyes on November 16, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa. ( Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire )

P.J. Fleck is doing everything he can to make the most of newly-found free time being stuck at home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Fleck has embraced a “new normal” since March 12, when the NCAA canceled all spring activities due to Covid-19. His University of Minnesota football team was a week into spring practice when everything was shut down. Fleck and the Gophers were looking to build off an 11-2 season, their best in 115 years, capped by a 31-24 win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Though everything has changed in athletics over the past two-plus months, Fleck is embracing the “new norm.” His work is done virtually, everything from team meetings to staff meetings to recruiting. Covid-19 has forced he and his staff to be creative, and it’s paying off.

Fleck and the Gophers currently have a top-10 recruiting class for 2021, highlighted by at least four 4-star recruits that are verbally committed without having stepped foot on campus. They’ve done virtual visits with the coaching staff, and virtual tours of the campus and Twin Cities.

Fleck was on Jim Rome’s nationally syndicated radio show earlier this week to talk about football, and life in quarantine.

“Creativity, that’s the name of the game right now. Finding creative ways. I think it’s just brilliant how our coaches have been able to do it,” Fleck told Rome.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed life for everybody. We’ve hit tough financial times, many have lost jobs and there have been lives lost. Fleck said the best perspective he’s heard since mid-March came from within his own household.

Fleck is also one of five Gophers head coaches to take a 10 percent pay cut for the first six months of fiscal year 2021, starting July 1, due to budget concerns in the Minnesota athletic department.

“My wife said it best when this whole thing started. She said I think Mother Nature has told us to go to our room and think about what we’ve done. She’s 100 percent right. This is a tragic time for so many people, our old norm was just washed away, and with it a lot of people’s jobs and dreams and futures. We all have to kind of look at what’s really important to us. This has given all of us time to reflect,” Fleck said.

He made sure to point out the Gopher football program centers on being elite athletically, academically, socially and spiritually. In addition to winning 11 games last season and having a school record five players picked in the NFL Draft, the Gophers team GPA of 3.21 was the highest in the history of the program. 

They’re also active in the community with several charity partnerships.

“They go hand in hand. You can’t be elite in one area of your life and not elite in another area. You’re either elite or you’re not,” Fleck said.

We don’t know when college football will resume, but the NCAA approved for schools to open their campuses for voluntary individual workouts in football and basketball from June 1 to June 30. We don’t know if the Gophers will yet, that depends on the restrictions placed on the state by Gov. Tim Walz.

The school is working in conjunction with the Governor’s office to figure that out by June 1. In the meantime, players are working on their own so that they’ll be ready when they’re given the go-ahead. Fleck said player-led teams are the ones that are elite.

“The teams that have been doing what they’re supposed to be doing are going to have a huge advantage when they come back,” Fleck told Rome.

Here is the full audio of P.J. Fleck's interview with Jim Rome.