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Spring football is in full force and recruiting is constant, but that hasn’t stopped head coach P.J. Fleck from making his way around campus to show support for the entire Gopher athletic department.
From day one, Fleck made it clear that he wants to be visible and connect Minnesota like no coach has ever done.
“I think all of our coaches are in it for the same reasons,” Fleck said. “We all want to educate young people and develop our own cultures but also develop the culture of our entire athletic department. I think connectivity is really big in championships. Not just in individual sports but as an athletic department. We all have our specific roles, but we are all connected because we are all Gophers.”
— Minnesota Softball (@GopherSoftball) February 11, 2018
Other teams have noticed Fleck’s presence. He showed up to multiple women’s basketball games throughout the season and voiced his support of the program throughout the year. He spoke to them late in the season and the football staff – led by Fleck – high-fived players before they left for the Big Ten tournament.
— Minnesota Wrestling (@GopherWrestling) January 28, 2018
“He brings such tremendous energy and excitement to our football program, but I think what he is exceptionally good at is sharing that enthusiasm for our entire athletic department,” head women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings said. “For him and Heather to give time and come to our game and speak to our team really sets the tone for what we are about on the larger scale. We are at an elite level competing and it’s elite, to use his word, of him to give his time and energy to spend time with our team. We are extremely grateful for it.”
Fleck goes around the country to give motivational speeches a few times a year. The women’s gymnastics team saw one first hand at Peik Gym when he stopped by to share some words of wisdom last month.
— Minnesota WBB (@GopherWBB) March 1, 2018
Thanks to @Coach_Fleck for the compass coins today! Can't wait to see @GopherFootball in full force at our last meet of the year on March 3rd! #Gophers #SkiUMah #RTB #LoveTheBattle pic.twitter.com/uCka2Dunak
— Minnesota W Gym (@GopherWGym) February 19, 2018
“P.J.'s support and availability means a lot to this athletic department. I've never seen a head football coach show his support to every team in the same way P.J. has,” head women’s gymnastics coach Jenny Hansen said. “He has a tremendous ability to connect with all of our student-athletes and they are incredibly receptive to the message. As coaches, we are all trying to teach the same life lessons, and his voice and enthusiasm helps to accentuate what we talk with them about on a daily basis.”
“I think it’s important for the football coach and some higher profile faces of our athletic department to be around other programs,” Fleck added. “We want the gymnastics teams to be at our games. We want the gymnastics team to know our football players. Our new facility is able to connect all that. I also connect with a lot of staff members here because you can learn a lot from other sports, journeys and stories. I don’t believe in leading a separate program.”
Serving and giving is a big message of what Fleck wants the culture of his team and the athletic department as a whole to be about. At least once a month you can find football players at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. The team also spends time in various schools, boys and girls clubs and soup kitchens across the area.
Nails by Bella! @GopherFootball running back Rodney Smith (@Numerouno1_) shared in a special nail painting session with one of our families during a hospital visit today. ❤️❤️#SkiUMah pic.twitter.com/8QxohsSfma
— Masonic Children's (@UMNChildrens) February 26, 2018
During the holiday season, the football team decided on their own to raise money and put on a “Row the Boat Turkey Drive.” Teams across the department can be seen making a difference with just one quick glance at "The Gopher Way" twitter handle. That is more important to Fleck than any on the field results.
“Row the boat is a culture of serving and giving and it’s not just about athletic performance. It’s about how you live your life, how you live your life as a student athlete – academically, athletically, spiritually and socially,” Fleck explained. “I think all student-athletes want to embrace that somehow, someway and I think ‘row the boat’ does that for all our student-athletes. It does not mean it’s ahead of Ski-U-Mah. Ski-U-Mah is our tradition. We are a Ski-U-Mah university.”
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