Current and former Gopher football players have come to the defense of head coach P.J. Fleck and the University of Minnesota football coaching staff after WCCO-TV aired a 7-minute segment about an ex-U of M professor and former players criticizing them for allegedly disregarding their physical and mental wellbeing.
WCCO-TV's Liz Collin reported on the investigative piece when Jason Stahl, a former U of M professor, raised a red flag after "dozens" of football players from would enter his class wearing "casts and braces."
Stahl told WCCO-TV that players complained to him about how tough it was playing for Fleck during his first season at the U in 2017, having taken over after the Jerry Kill/Tracy Claeys era ended.
“Physical and mental health degradation. I saw it in the classroom,” Stahl told WCCO-TV. According to KSTP-TV's Darren Wolfson, Stahl "has tried for a while" to get someone in the Twin Cities media to pick up on the story.
The report has generated significant response from Gopher football supporters, including former star linebacker Carter Coughlin, the Eden Prairie native who now plays in the NFL for the New York Giants.
"These [accusations] about the Gopher football program being [too hard] are actually laughable. I owe so much of the man I am today to [head coach P.J. Fleck] and to [Gopher football]. Straight up, some people just aren’t cut out for college football. That story is ABSURD," tweeted Coughlin.
"How about WCCO asks someone who fought through the [hard practices] for 4 years what they think. Ask me 10 years down the road when I have trials in life, marriage, whatever else and fight through instead of give up like a lot people because of the way I was pushed in football."
Quarterback Tanner Morgan also came to Fleck and the coaching staff's defense.
"I love [Coach Fleck] & our Coaches so much. Truly have our best interest at heart for all areas of our life. Love our culture. Thankful to be apart of this program and the RTB culture," Morgan tweeted.
When asked to provide a statement regarding the reaction the story has generated, a U of M spokesperson told Bring Me The News: "The public has made our statement."
One of the former Gophers interviewed in the WCCO story was Alex Reigelsperger, the defensive end who fractured two vertebrae in his neck during practice, ending his football career.
According to WCCO, Reigelsperger said he never heard from Fleck after the injury. However, as Gopher Hole points out, Minnesota Daily ran a story about Reigelsperger after the career-ending injury in which he credited his teammates and defensive coaching staff for consistently checking in on him.
Bring Me The News reached out to WCCO-TV for comment, and has not received a response.
Nolan Edmunds and Grant Norton, also both former players under Fleck, told WCCO of practice-related injuries that fueled the end of their playing days. Edmunds said memory and emotional issues caused him to leave the team, while Norton lost 50 pounds in short order due to anxiety about practice, according to Stahl.
Stahl raised his concerns with the athletics department, and WCCO-TV received a statement from the U of M saying his complaints "were thoroughly reviewed" and resulted in no violations in misconduct.
Stahl was demoted months later, though the U of M told the TV station that his employment status had nothing to do with him reporting concerns, though the university is not allowed to detail specifics due to privacy laws.
Since the WCCO-TV report aired Monday, many have criticized the allegations, including former Kansas State star Ben Leber, who played for the Vikings and is now regularly heard on KFAN-FM 100.3 in the Twin Cities.
"After reading the WCCO article, the Gophers football program isn’t much different than most," Leber tweeted. "Football is supposed to be hard but also extremely rewarding if you can handle the mental, emotional and physical challenges. It’s not for everyone."
Mohamed Ibrahim, a star running back for the Gophers, said the "Row the Boat" culture under Fleck "is "hard but so is life."
More responses from Gopher players, past and present, responding to the report.