The opening montage from Wednesday’s debut episode on ESPNU of “Being P.J. Fleck,” the four-part series chronicling the new Gophers football coach, suggested we might be in for a “Hard Knocks” type of experience.
On that HBO show, the expletives fly fast and furious. The very first thing we heard from Fleck, mere seconds into Wednesday’s debut, was a message for players about punctuality that included two beeped-out words.
But that was about the only whiff of controversy or really confrontation that one would find through the course of the 30 minutes. We’ll see if the subsequent three parts — which will air the next three Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ESPNU and will be rebroadcast by Big Ten Network — have more of an edge.
Part I was more of an introduction, spending copious amounts of time on both Fleck’s childhood and coaching rise. If the series continues on the same trajectory, it’s fair to say it will be quite beneficial to both Fleck and the Gophers.
As Fleck noted before the first show aired: “They approached us, which was an honor. One thing I am hired to do is bring national exposure, national attention to the University of Minnesota. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
This is what everyone signed up for; it would be hard to imagine, at least, a network salivating over a “Being Tracy Claeys” series.
If there was a main theme in the first episode, it was a constant stream of testimonials from various folks who have known Fleck for a long time, all saying essentially the same thing: yes, Fleck is authentic. His up-tempo, always-on-the-move, whirling dervish style is not an act. That’s just him.
His parents recalled taking him to see a doctor, even, when Fleck was younger to make sure his flurry of activity was normal. (It was, they were told).
That segment of the show also revealed several fun childhood pictures of Fleck, though Gophers fans might have cringed when one was of him wearing a Wisconsin Badgers T-shirt. A multi-sport athlete in high school, Fleck said on the show that he thought he would wind up playing college basketball instead of football — as a walk-on with the Badgers.
Instead, as those who have become familiar with Fleck in recent months have learned (and it’s been hard not to learn these things given his presence), the episode noted that he parlayed his Division III size into a Division I scholarship at Northern Illinois as a wide receiver and later spent time with the NFL’s 49ers, mostly on their practice squad.
When that dream ended, he transitioned quickly into coaching. Fleck started compiling a binder early in his career for the day he would become a head coach — an opportunity he got at Western Michigan.
One quote from the show that struck me came via former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, one of Fleck’s coaching mentors.
“You know western Michigan was trying to make it so nice for him to have a great situation and stay there forever,” Tressel said. “But that’s not the way he’s wired. He wants the next challenge.”
Oh, maybe there is some controversy to be had? If Fleck is wired for the next challenge, what’s to say he’ll stay in Minnesota for the long haul.
Nah, it was dashed moments later in the episode’s conclusion. Fleck, shown preparing for the Gophers spring game, talked about how surreal it felt to be a Big Ten coach after dreaming of such a thing.
“This is our new home,” Fleck says as the show ends. “Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”