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Don’t Expect Fleck to Leave for Vols

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January 25, 2021

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Word is Gophers head football coach P.J. Fleck isn’t headed to the Tennessee Volunteers, but don’t expect speculation about his future at Minnesota to end in the months or years ahead.

Rumors are circulating of Fleck’s interest in the Tennessee job that opened earlier in January, but a source close to University of Minnesota football told Sports Headliners Fleck has turned down the position. Late last year Fleck’s name was speculated about with an NFL head coaching job.

It’s probably accurate that other job inquiries have been encouraged toward the 40-year-old Fleck who successfully has led the Gophers program since 2017. It could be Fleck and agent Bryan Harlan are more than willing to use talk of the coach going elsewhere as leverage to improve program resources and budgets, including contracts for Fleck and his staff. Fleck’s $4.75 million salary places him in the middle of compensation for Big Ten coaches, and the money pool for assistants is among the lowest in the conference.

Most of Fleck’s assistants have expiring contracts this month, according to the source who acknowledges the head coach is frustrated by his staff’s compensation. It’s not known what stance the University of Minnesota administration and athletic director Mark Coyle are taking regarding contract renewals and salary increases but it’s certain Fleck will fight for assistant coaches.

Money, always a challenging subject in the athletic department, is dramatically more sensitive now because of the pandemic and a department deficit for this school year could total $50 million or more. It just might be that the cost saving of eliminating gymnastics, tennis and indoor track starting with the 2021-2022 school year will at least partially be directed toward the football budget.

It was reported in December the U is facing about a $166 million overall budget shortfall by fiscal year end. In the months ahead money via a loan, or perhaps sale of bonds, is expected to bolster the U budget with a significant portion targeted to the Gopher Athletic Department.

Whether Fleck is determined to stay at Minnesota long-term appears debatable. He has said a career goal was to coach at a Big Ten school and he has expressed his liking for the quality of life in Minneapolis and in the state. The Gopher job, though, can’t match financial resources with the bluebloods of college football.

If Fleck’s ultimate goal is to land at such a program, the U leadership ought to be protecting itself regarding a buyout if he decides to go elsewhere. His buyout figure was set at $10 million last year but now has dropped to $4.5 million. Extending Fleck’s contract in the coming months with new provisions that include a large buyout could be a prudent move for the U.

Worth Noting

Dan Harralson, writing Saturday for Volswire.usatoday.com, contends Fleck could be a great fit for the Vols not only because of his success with Minnesota. The Vols are facing alleged NCAA infractions and Harralson said the program might benefit from Fleck’s relationship with Joe Novak, his college coach at Northern Illinois. The retired Novak is a member of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions.

Hank Aaron, the baseball icon who also passed away last week and played in the minor leagues and majors in Wisconsin, held the career baseball home run record for more than three decades and was compared with rivals Willie Mays and Ted Williams. Aaron, younger than both, didn’t serve in the military while Mays missed two seasons in the major leagues because of the Korean conflict and Williams five (World War II and Korea). Those lost seasons were prime years for both Mays and Williams whose gaudy stats would have been even more impressive, including career home run totals.

Dave Wright

Twin Cities resident Dave Wright, the retired Hamline sports publicist, is now in his 52nd year as a public address announcer. “I started when I was a junior in high school at Assumption in Windsor, Ontario in 1970,” Wright said in an email responding to a Sports Headliners request about his P.A. career.

Wright’s impressive resume includes assignments for both the state boys basketball and hockey tournaments. At St. Thomas he was the longtime P.A. voice for both Tommies basketball and football. He has also worked softball and soccer games over the years. Current assignments are St. Thomas Academy hockey, St. Agnes football and high school section baseball games at CHS Field. “I have no idea how many games I have done. The number must be at least 1,500,” he wrote.

The P.A. work is a labor of love, and certainly not an endeavor to make money, with Wright estimating an assignment might pay a person $40 per game at a local high school. He’s still having fun after all these years. “I am 67 and think my voice is still good. But I know it will go out down the line and I hope I am smart enough to leave before somebody tells me to.”

Supporters who previously attributed Minnesota’s mediocre Big Ten basketball record to a string of games against nationally ranked teams had to think again Saturday. Richard Pitino’s Gophers lost at home to unranked Maryland, with the Terps dominating in a 63-49 win. The loss set Minnesota’s conference record at 4-5.

Below .500 in Big Ten regular season games is familiar for Pitino. Now in his eighth season, the coach has led Minnesota to one Big Ten season with a winning percentage above .500.

Hopkins basketball legend Paige Bueckers, now a freshman at Connecticut where the Huskies are 10-0, is averaging 17.1 points per game, making .536 percent of her field goals, averaging 5.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists. She missed the Huskies’ most recent game with an injury. Minnesota prep basketball enthusiast Ken Lien points out Bueckers last played in a losing game as a sophomore in high school.

Talk show host Larry King who passed away a few days ago was a friend of Harvey Mackay, the former Gopher golfer, Minneapolis businessman, syndicated columnist and New York Times best selling author. Mackay’s latest book is out this month, “Getting a Job is a Job.”

The Wall Street Journal weekend edition reports NBC is shutting down its cable sports channel at year’s end, with NHL programming transitioning during 2021 to USA Network.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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