It's almost hard to believe PJ Fleck hasn't even coach his first football game as head coach at the University of Minnesota. He has been all but omnipresent for Gopher football fans since his hiring in January, just 65 hours after the firing of Tracy Claeys.
It's safe to say, if Fleck's introductory press conference in early 2017 and his presser on Monday are any indication of how he runs a football team, Gopher fans are going to have an exciting (dare I say 'elite'?) era of football to look forward to with PJ at the helm.
Fleck spoke ahead training camp in order to thank a slew of people, re-express his excitement for what his called his "dream journey", as well as field several questions reporters had about the upcoming (and fast approaching) 2017 football season.
Fleck opened with a statement illustrating the importance of the day meant to him and his team, "This is a really exciting day because this is really the start of the future. The start of right now. The start of the right next step. So we're really excited to do that."
The head coach continued his opening statement by thanking everybody from President Kaler and Mark Coyle, the media, the student-body, down to the individual workers from Mortenson Construction - who are in the midst of building the new University of Minnesota Athletic Village.
Now, to the X's and O's portion of the presser!
Fleck explained "This is the beginning of training camp. It's kind of like opening the gifts on Christmas morning, you get a chance to see what you have. We still are looking at what do we have. Remember, we still have the 22 guys we have not evaluated or had a chance to develop but those are the three words that are going to be critical, evaluation, developing and mastering in this training camp. And we have to do all three in a four-week span, which is incredible challenge to our staff and our players."
It will indeed be a challenge for somebody who has never coached this group of players; much less in the B1G Conference.
But, perhaps no position more important or more challenging is that of the quarterback. With the departure of the former long-time QB Mitch Leidner, the Gophers have a vacancy to fill.
Fleck was asked about the QB battle expected to shake out in this month's training camp. "The quarterback question is one I'm sure you all have on your minds, I have it on my mind, I'll be honest with you, every single day, every single night. What I'm looking for is somebody to take ownership of our football team." Fleck said, "So you have to put them through rigorous, high-stress, high-pressure, easy, relaxed, type of situations, all throughout the spectrum to see how they respond to that. Decisive decision-making in everything that they do."
Naturally, the follow up question was simply "when do you have to pick one?"
In response he admitted, "Great question. The minute I know, I promise you, I will be so excited to tell every one of you. Secrets secrets aren't no fun, secrets, secrets hurt someone. I'm not keeping a secret."
When a coach pulls out the 'secrets secrets' rhyme most of us remember from our child hoods, I tend to believe him - we will have an answer at QB as soon as he does.
Fleck went on to answer questions about his youthful group at wide receiver, and the challenge of being a freshman pass catcher in the B1G, "It's incredibly hard. I've done it in college football, it's incredibly difficult. (5th overall pick in 2017 NFL Draft) Corey Davis had to come in at Western Michigan and he was a freshman -- all-American, freshman player of the year in the conference, freshman all-American but I watched the struggles he had and he was that talented of a player but still had struggles."
Offensively, the strongest group on paper seems to be at running back with the talented tandem of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. Fleck talked about his back field and the importance of keeping those two fresh all season long. "I mean, they're really the heartbeat of this football team when you start talking about guys that are back, experienced players.We love to run the football in terms of our system. And you want to keep them healthy." Fleck even flirted with the idea of giving those two guys some off days to recover throughout the season "But my job, I want to be able to take care of those players, right, take care of those guys, get 'em healthy and make sure they stay healthy. Now, the thing is football is a violent sport, guys get hurt, but they're very, very important for the future of our program, especially this season. And we'll do all we can."
He went on to discuss some of the logistics of his practice schedules, installing yoga sessions and stretches into their weekly regimen, and bringing more exposure from a national level to this program.
He ended the press conference the only way PJ Fleck knows how: "Appreciate you, look forward to seeing you. Row The Boat, Ski U Mah. Thank you."
The Gophers officially kick-off the PJ Fleck era with their regular season opener at 6PM Thursday, August 31st hosting Buffalo at TCF Bank Stadium. If you aren't at the game, turn on the radio and listen to the radio team of Mike Grimm, Darrell Thompson, and the FAN's Justin Gaard on the sidelines. It's going to be ELITE.