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P.J. Fleck’s got plenty of challenges ahead of him in building Gophers program

A sea change is afoot in Minneapolis, as P.J. Fleck has been announced as the head coach of the Minnesota Gophers football program. Given he was at the top of the list for the administration and fans, excited is the word of the day.

However, once the initial excitement fades away the reality of the Gophers’ situation will settle in. That reality? A locker room that is a mess and players who feel hurt by the administration and the university at large.

Fleck comes in as a man with a reputation as a program builder and a man with plenty of motivational techniques in his arsenal. That’s the good news here, as Fleck faces a challenge that just about no nine-win team will face heading in to the 2017 season.

The reality is he needs to start over on and off the field. Minnesota’s offense was stagnant at best, its defense just okay and its culture clearly a mess. Fleck addressed that need for cultural change head on in his first press conference.

“I am more than football,” Fleck said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Our kids will be more than football. What does that mean. We are going to serve and give as much as can. In the new era of Gopher football it is not about us. We’re going to connect people to Gopher football who don’t even like football. … Our players will have incredible, elite actions every single day. When you watch Gophers football from this point on, it will be different.”

He is going to have to change things in the locker room first and foremost. He is going to have to change the moral culture within this group of players, while also building a program within his image on the recruiting trail too.

At least the opening moments of his tenure have been full of the right words. Actions however will speak louder, and judging by his actions at Western Michigan, there’s little doubt that his actions more than back up the words spoken.

Those needed changes aren’t always immediate though, and the question in Minneapolis has to be just how quickly Fleck can get this group of players to buy in to what he is selling.

We’ll know more when Fleck announces his staff, but perhaps the best bit of news is that Fleck will get to work with a clean slate in terms of what is around him on the field. There will have to be a new quarterback with Mitch Leidner graduated, meaning Fleck can mold the offense in his image quickly rather than slowly.

This team also has plenty of experience returning from that 9-4 team, meaning he won’t be working with a completely bare cupboard either. But, are those returning players ready for what Fleck and Co. will bring and expect from its players?

Spring football is going to go a long way towards telling us all the answers. For now, we saw a coach who understood what he was walking in to and that is half the battle of getting a program to believe in you going forward.

 

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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