It looks like the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry, and the battle for the Big Ten West division, will begin to heat up starting in 2017.
Minnesota officially named Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck to the same position, the university announced on Friday morning. The Gophers fired Tracy Claeys on Tuesday.
Multiple reports confirmed the hire earlier in the day before the official press release. As the Daily Gopher noted earlier on Friday, WWMT in Kalamazoo reported the head of the Broncos program was headed west.
The Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen reported on Friday morning that the agreement, a five-year deal, was reached. The university confirmed that in its press release.
WMU’s athletic director, Kathy Beauregard also tweeted on Friday morning that she was informed of Fleck’s “intention to accept the Minnesota job.”
WMU has been informed of PJ Fleck's intention to accept the Minnesota job.We will hold a noon press conference in Seelye— Kathy Beauregard (@BeauregardKathy) January 6, 2017
Fleck led the Western Michigan football program to a 13-1 record this season, with its lone loss coming against the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The 36-year old played at Northern Illinois during his college days, then worked on staffs under Jim Tressel, Greg Schiano, with a stint in the NFL as well with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Four years ago, he took over as head coach of the Broncos, going from 1-11 in 2013 to 13-1 with a conference championship and a New Year’s Six bowl berth in 2016. He was 30-22 in his tenure in Kalamazoo.
As noted in B5Q’s roundtable discussion earlier this week, what better way to jump start a program (and a rivalry) than a hire like Fleck.
Who should be Minnesota’s new head football coach?
Jon Beidelschies: FLECK! This is right in his wheelhouse. Minnesota is actually not a bad job. It has some history as a program, a relatively new stadium in a large metro area and plays in a consistently winnable Big Ten West. Whoever’s going in there will need to rip it down to the studs and that is what Fleck did at Western Michigan.
Jake Kocorowski: When coming from a Wisconsin perspective, what better way to jumpstart a program (and a rivalry) than a hire like Fleck. There would be a much-needed culture change for a a program reeling with dissension and misguided/delusional frustration by its players, infectious shots of energetic positivity from a head coach that wins press conferences and games on the field and heck—there’s a slogan that comes with the package.
Fleck’s personality is the perfect yin to Paul Chryst’s yang. The ever-animated Fleck matching up yearly with the stoic, soft-spoken Chryst. For fans, and maybe the media, it would reinvigorate a rivalry that’s become one-sided, and maybe provide a storyline of an immediate threat to Wisconsin’s recent dominance (and for journalists, you’re always supposed to root for the best story, right?).
Fleck can recruit, he can motivate and bring together a program. You can point to the fact he turned around a Group of Five, MAC program, but think what he could do with the resources of a Big Ten program.
Regarding the annual battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the players for both programs understand the importance of the rivalry between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Now, there’s a whole new level of energy that should provide some fire to the fanbases.