Are the Gophers at risk of losing P.J. Fleck?

It might be a matter of time before larger programs (and their gigantic checkbooks) come calling.
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PJ Fleck

If you're a fan of the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team, it's hard not to be excited about the job that P.J. Fleck has been doing with the program. After inheriting a 10-3 record, but several off the field issues from Tracey Clayes, Fleck's team bottomed out with five wins in 2017, but took a big leap forward at the end of the 2018 season.

Although their record was a modest 7-6, Minnesota turned it around from a midseason swoon to win three of their final four games including the program's first victory over Wisconsin in 15 years.

Not only did that win over the Badgers bring Paul Bunyan's Axe back to Minnesota, but it also marked the start of what is now the fourth-longest current winning streak in the nation at eight games.

With the takeover in Camp Randall serving as a catalyst, the Gophers have used that momentum to build a 6-0 start and crack the AP and Coaches Poll, where they currently reside as the 20th team in the country.

It hasn't been pretty, but it's a job that Fleck has taken head-on since coming over from an undefeated Western Michigan squad three years ago.

As Minnesota enjoys its best start since the 2003 season, it also doesn't come without one looming question. With the Gophers being far from a prestigious program, it might be a matter of time before larger programs (and their gigantic checkbooks) come calling. 

While the U of M has made significant additions to their facilities over the past couple of years, it begs the question of whether they can convince Fleck to stay in Minnesota for the long haul or he'll leave for greener pastures. If the past is any indicator, it's that history may not be on the Gophers side. 

Throughout the years, the Gophers have had their issues having coaches stick around and although they are a Power 5 school competing for a Big Ten West division title, it may not have the same allure as a school that is not living up to its standards. 

Those schools could include a program such as USC (who is currently sitting at 3-3) or a struggling program under a relatively new regime such as Florida State (8-9 under Willie Taggert), UCLA (4-14 under Chip Kelly) or Tennessee (7-11 under Jeremy Pruitt).

Such has been the tradition of successful coaches at middle-level schools in college football, once they get success at where they are at, they head to an even bigger program in hopes of stardom. Not that anyone would blame Fleck for getting a chance to coach the Trojans, Seminoles, Bruins or Volunteers, but it would leave Minnesota in a rut.

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Minnesota also doesn't have the recent tradition that a school like Wisconsin would have in getting coaches to stay. With the Badgers cementing their program image thanks to the legendary career of Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin has been able to tap into his coaching tree and have a long-term answer of Paul Chryst, who played and previously coached for the Badgers.

Although Clayes is available after resigning as Washington State's defensive coordinator recently, it's highly unlikely the Gophers would be giving him a call should Fleck leave.

For now, the Gophers should just be able to enjoy the culture that Fleck has established in just two-plus years on the job. With Minnesota being favored by 28 1/2 points in Saturday's matchup with Rutgers and a winnable game the following week against Maryland, the Gophers could have their most important stretch in several years kick off with games against Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern and a potential division championship game with Wisconsin.

This is what the Gophers wanted when they brought Fleck aboard. Now they need to decide if they can keep him around.

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