CHICAGO — P.J. Fleck, the lively new head coach at Minnesota, kicked off Day 2 of Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday morning. If you hadn’t had your morning cup of coffee, yet, well, you didn’t really need it. Fleck provided plenty of caffeine on his own.
Fleck begins his first season in Minneapolis after four successful years at Western Michigan. He went 30–22 over those four seasons leading the Broncos — a tenure that included a 13–1 campaign in 2016.
But even though Fleck did not land his first head coaching gig until 2013, his career in the profession started long before that. And it actually started in Columbus as a graduate assistant for Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Fleck was a GA on Tressel’s staff in 2006 — the year the Buckeyes lost to Florida in the national championship game.
Fleck spoke Tuesday about that season and the impact Tressel had on his coaching career.
“There's two things: Nobody's perfect and poise. Those are two things I learned from Jim Tressel,” Fleck said. “Poise, I've never seen a guy more poised in my entire life. It could be high, it could be low. I've never seen anybody be able to handle a situation or crisis as well as Jim Tressel.”
“And everybody is a human being,” he continued. “Everybody can be defeated. Here I am my first year of coaching, you're 5-0, 6-0, 8-0, 12-0. This coaching thing is pretty easy. Go to the national championship, the same fad, get a job, go to a national championship. Then it was against Florida, and it was on the headset, and I remember Jim Tressel saying in the first quarter: ‘Boys, if we don't get this first down, it's over.’”
Urban Meyer and the Gators, of course, took down Tressel in Ohio State to win the title, 41-14. That game stuck with Fleck, though, and he referenced it some 11 years later.
“I'm sitting there thinking this is Jim Tressel. This is incredible,” Fleck said. “But it was one of the biggest teaching moments of my life because I put him on such a pedestal. He's so perfect, everything he called. And then we played Florida and got beat, but even to watch him handle the loss was incredible, with poise, with dignity, with integrity, complementing Florida, first class in everything that he did.”
“Those are the things and moments you remember, and you want to be like the people that shaped your life. And he's a huge influence in my life.”
The Ohio State connections don’t stop there for Fleck, though. After accepting the job as Gophers head coach, he hired former Buckeyes offensive coordinator Ed Warinner to coach the offensive line in Minneapolis.
Warinner, of course, was the man responsible for the development of players like Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Jack Mewhort, Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein and more during his tenure in Columbus.
“Oh, my gosh, an immediate impact, first and foremost,” Fleck said of the Warinner hiring. “Anytime you get a chance to hire a guy like Ed Warinner, you jump on it. … Ed has brought a ton of knowledge to our offensive room. He's a phenomenal recruiter, wonderful person, and just brings a plethora of knowledge.”
“Anytime you can hire an offensive coordinator at The Ohio State University, bring him up, be a part of an experience he's had and bring him a part of your program, you jump on it. He's had numerous opportunities to leave and go to the National Football League, and I'm very honored he stayed. It just shows what type of commitment he has, and we'll enjoy him every chance we can while we have him.”