Weather Forecast


Is his energy real? Those who know Gopher coach P.J. Fleck is 'wired, full-speed'

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck waits with his team as they get ready to take to the field in the first half of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football Spring Game at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday, April 15, 2017. John Autey / Special to the St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The introductory episode of "Being P.J. Fleck" on Wednesday, Aug. 2, was far from a Kardashian-like reality TV show.

Instead, the first of four weekly installments began with a dive into the background of how Fleck went from underdog wide receiver in Sugar Grove, Ill., to the Gophers head football coach in less than 20 years.

The show on ESPNU bills itself as both documentary and reality show and follows last year's, "Being Brett Beilema," a look at and into the former Wisconsin coach now leading Arkansas.

The show opens with a quote from a disembodied Fleck, presumably addressing his team at Minnesota in his first few months on the job.

"I don't give a (expletive) if you are one minute late," Fleck said. "You understand that? One minute late, you're going to sit your (expletive) on the bench."

The show then explores the most-asked question co-executive producer Bo Mattingly had about Fleck: Is his energy for real?

Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and ex-San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan backed its legitimacy. "That's who he is; he is wired, full-speed," Tressel said.

The show travels to his hometown in the suburbs of Chicago, learning that his father Phil Fleck might have given his son some "Catholic guilt" in telling him he could shine car lights on the driveway so his son could take more jumpshots at the hoop in the dark.

The producers dug up footage of Fleck as a high school wide receiver. He's wearing oversized shoulder pads and a No. 10 jersey while catching passes and running past defenders en route to state championships.

Fleck's high school coaches provided further anecdotes about how he isn't an act.

After winning their second state title, assistant coach Tom Fedderly said Fleck was holding the trophy on their ride home. Fleck asked, "college coaches, do they swear at you?"

"We just kind of looked at each other and smiled and said, "PJ, don't worry about it, you'll be all right."

Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca shared a story about a coaches' meeting when he and Fleck were together on Rutgers staff in 2010-11. They were discussing how plays were installed.

"He said, "I'm into that,' " Ciarrocca, the OC for the Scarlet Knights, recalled the roughly 30-year-old wide receivers coach say. "He sat and he listened to me. I got done talking and I'm thinking I'm helping him, getting him ready to be a coordinator some day.

"He said to me, "Coach Kirk, I want to be a head coach, and I want to be the youngest head coach in college football. I looked at him, and I kind of laughed."

The episode quickly depicts Fleck's seriousness. A scene shows him with a thick green three-ring binder with notes and tips from coaches such as Nolan, Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh, Nick Saban and Mark Richt.

The show cuts to Fleck and Ciarrocca on a private plane during the start of their tenure together at Minnesota. Fleck recalled how he tried to get Ciarrocca to see his crafted head-coach book, "and literally the first thing (Ciarrocca) said was, 'I'll look at that later. Get your wideouts to line up right first because you can't be a head coach if you can't get them to line up right.' "

Ciarrocca and the new Gophers head football coach shared a laugh over that story.