Michigan State’s football coaching vacancy is stirring a lot of speculation as to who will replace fired boss Mel Tucker. Among names conjectured is Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck who headed the football program at Western Michigan before taking over the Golden Gophers in 2017.
It’s easy for crystal ballers to type Fleck’s name as a possible candidate given his background in the state of Michigan and success at Western and Minnesota. At age 42 his combination of experience and coaching youth makes him an attractive name to speculate about.
However, don’t wager the mortgage on Minnesota’s Athletes Village that the Spartans are targeting Fleck and that he is interested. Reasons include the following:
Sports Headliners has found no credible information there is mutual interest in the job of leading the Spartans. This includes some “digging” while the Spartans were in town last Saturday to play the Gophers.
When asked, a Big Ten athletic director told me there is no conference policy prohibiting a school from hiring another institution’s head coach. Doing so, though, in a highly visible sport like football, would create hard feelings between the two programs and go against the cooperative and supportive spirit of being in a conference aligned with mutual interests and loyalties.
It’s not unusual for assistant football coaches to change Big Ten schools. However, the last time head football coaches switched loyalties in the conference was in late 1972. Alex Agase vacated his position at Northwestern to become head coach at Purdue. Soon after John Pont left Indiana to take over at Northwestern. There have been no similar moves in 50 years.
Fleck is in his seventh season at Minnesota and his name has come up with other coaching openings. It’s believed he was targeted for the Tennessee job in 2021 and may have turned it down. Numerous reports in January of that year said he wasn’t interested in the position.
A source told Sports Headliners there might have been interest in Fleck from Michigan State before Tucker was hired. That was in the winter of 2020 when the Gophers were coming off their 11-2 season and final AP national ranking of No. 10.
Fleck is highly competitive and knows he can have success here. The Gophers have won nine games or more three times dating back to 2019. His 49-30 record translates to a winning percentage of .620 and is among the best in program history. This season the Gophers are 5-3 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten games.
Fleck and wife Heather are enthusiastic about the quality-of-life here. They’re building a new home in the metro area and have immersed themselves in the community including with charitable activities.
The wild card in retaining Fleck long-term is Name, Image and Likeness money for players. Dinkytown Athletes, the official collective for Gopher athletes in all sports, has momentum this fall with increasing revenues including from innovative ideas like the sale of Duck Duck Beer in state liquor stores. DA has only been operational for about 13 months. (Note: DA advertises on this blog).
Collectives are quiet about their “pots of gold” but news of late hasn’t been good for Sparty. Internet reports a few weeks ago said MSU’s official collective was pausing payments to many of the football players due to a lack of support from the public.
Michigan State football has been in turmoil this fall because of alleged improprieties against Tucker that resulted in his in-season dismissal. Who knows what other fallout there could be at MSU? The school and athletic department have absorbed multiple serious problems in recent years.
The situation contrasts with the stability Fleck has at Minnesota including a close relationship with AD Mark Coyle who hired him in January of 2017. It’s invaluable for a head football coach to have the ear and support of his AD. The two not only share a mutual trust but also a staunch commitment to operating in compliance with NCAA rules. Who you work for, and the athletic department’s culture, can be invaluable for a coach in the combustible world of college football.
Given its geographic location near recruiting hotbeds, winning tradition, large fanbase and deep-pocket alumni, the MSU job is attractive. East Lansing is an easier place to win than Minneapolis and the Spartans have shown a willingness to pay beyond top dollar with their careless commitment to Tucker at $95 million.
Per Usatoday.com earlier this fall, Tucker was No. 5 in the country with a ridiculous 2023 salary of about $10 million. Fleck ranked No. 26 at $6 million on a national list of compensation for college football coaches.
In a bidding war for Fleck, MSU probably wins. But Spartan AD Alan Haller and whoever is helping him with the search for a new coach are more likely to target a flashy name such as icon Urban Meyer or a coach having a big season like Duke’s Mike Elko, Lane Kiffin from Mississippi, or Lance Leipold at Kansas.
Notice that none of them is currently coaching in the Big Ten.
Minnetonka Girls Basketball: For Sure a Team to Watch
Among the intriguing storylines to follow in state high school sports this fall, and winter, will be the girls’ basketball team at Minnetonka High School. Second-year coach Brian Cosgriff won seven state championships at Hopkins and will have one of Minnesota’s best 4A teams in 2023-2024 at ‘Tonka.
“When you have a USA basketball player on your team, you should be pretty good,” Cosgriff told Sports Headliners. “And then you got a Golden Gopher commit and then you got a point guard that’s being recruited by power fives—you got a shot.”
Aaliyah Crump averaged nine points per game and 3.8 rebounds for the Under 16 USA team last summer that had a 6-0 record and won a gold medal. Cosgriff said the 6-1 junior is “being recruited by everybody” for her skills and versatility. “She can play any position she wants,” Cosgriff said.
Senior Tori McKinney, a 6-1 guard-wing, has verbally committed to Minnesota and is another versatile player who Cosgriff praised as a “great defender” and hard worker. Point guard Lanelle Wright was named Lake All-Conference as a freshman last season.
The Skippers have other experienced players, too, who will play important roles in an opportune season ahead. “We have a nice nucleus coming back,” Cosgriff said.
He coached Paige Bueckers at Hopkins High School, and she became the biggest star in women’s college basketball while playing for UConn in 2021. Cosgriff said Crump is probably the most pursued recruit he’s ever had because Bueckers committed early to UConn and by so doing discouraged other schools.
“Both are equally talented,” Cosgriff said. “Paige had a basketball IQ that was off the charts. Crump has athletic ability that’s off the charts, and height. They both are very, very good players, but it’s hard to compare the two.”
Cosgriff has been a head coach in Minnesota girls’ basketball since 1999. He’s seen the development of talent in the state through the years. “…I mean it’s gotten really good, and I really think it’s kind of a hotbed for a lot of colleges to come in here and start recruiting players. Because it used to be a kid…would maybe get an offer from the U or some smaller D I school. Now you got your Power Fives coming in here on a regular basis.”
Cosgriff said legendary Hopkins’ boys coach Kenny Novak once told him he thought Bueckers could be a starter for his team.