One of the favored canards of the non-Gopher fans I’ve interacted with is that PJ Fleck is a short timer here. Sometime in the next three years, he’ll win nine or ten games and then go make bank at whatever blue blood program is looking for a new coach – Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, maybe one of the top four SEC teams.
It’s an argument that’s not without some merit: I mean, I love this team like it was my unborn twin brother, attached to my kidney, surviving only by consuming my life force; but this hasn’t exactly been a destination job for the last, oh, say, 50 years or so. It’s cold, we’re as far away from fertile recruiting grounds as Kamchatka and the general buzz around the program in the community is “Oh, the Gopher season started?” Not exactly the sort of conditions that make a potential star coach want to try his luck after a breakthrough season.
He’s not going anywhere, though. This is going to come as bad news for the screechers who hate that ‘Row the Boat’ is the new mantra for the team, but those three words are the reason he might be here for life.
Think about it: do you reckon Notre Dame is just going to say “meh, let’s ditch ‘Play Like a Champion Today’ and change everything to oars for the new coach!” Totally, totally reasonable to believe Michigan would replace the GO BLUE banner with F.A.M.I.L.Y. as the players take the field. And it’s only playing at Alabama if it’s ‘Row Tide’ or some other monstrosity of the language – I’m looking at you Rhoda Boat.
No, none of college football’s royalty are going to let the head coach come in and re-brand their program. There would be blood on the streets and the heads of athletic directors on pikes in the stadium if they did.
And, truly, I don’t think he’d be willing to go to a school that wouldn’t let him prominently feature RTB. It’s the centerpiece of his culture and is seemingly tied directly to his life’s mission. You can’t have Fleck without Row the Boat.
My belief, and I’m strapping phone books to my belly in case someone tries to shiv me, is that Minnesota was the best school Fleck could go to that would let him feature RTB in its full, intimidating tumescence. Yeah, we had some branding, namely Ski-U-Mah, but who outside of us had any idea what it was or meant? Beyond that, what equity did we have that any Minnesotan with no existing affinity for the Gophers would think of? Beats me. Probably Goldy?
And that’s the point. We had no real brand locally and nationally the narrative was “Freezing up there 14 months out of the year.” So, frankly, we had nothing to lose by diminishing what little brand equity we had and allowing Fleck to run the show with RTB. I understand how it upsets some of the traditionalists that Ski-U-Mah has been supplanted – and it really hasn’t, it was never exactly something that was featured, and efforts to get the crowd to chant it were routinely panned – but the ends justify the means in this situation. Fleck wanted a Power 5 job, but wanted to take RTB with him. We were a Power 5 job that would let him go to town on branding the program.
I might be cracked, but that feels like a pretty unique situation to me. Coach for life. Or until he bombs out like everyone else.