Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck defends program against allegations he calls ‘baseless’
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck brushed off allegations that he runs a toxic program on Thursday, saying they mostly come from players and employees who have been dismissed or departed on their own.
“These allegations are baseless,” Fleck said during Big Ten media days at Lucas Oil Stadium. “We have full support of our athletic director, Mark Coyle, and our university leadership. This is a similar story that gets peddled every single year, and the majority of the players have been dismissed or removed from our football team.”
Multiple former players and employees have been quoted anonymously in reports, including by Front Office Sports, examining the program’s culture, including an accusation that Fleck has interfered with medical protocols to get injured players to return earlier than anticipated.
“We also have around a half-dozen anonymous reporting avenues within our football program that players can go to if they have an issue,” Fleck said. “And our athletic director, Mark Coyle, gives his cellphone number to every single football player to call him if they have any issue. To this date, there have been zero claims on this issue. Zero.”
Fleck said he knows where most of the complaints have originated.
“Oh absolutely, players talk,” he said. “Players have a lot of pride in what and how we do it. Sometimes, the negative voices are the loudest voices.
“Look at our team’s response, that’s going through that culture and that program right now. ... You’ve got to make some really hard decisions. You stand firm on what you believe in. You’re as transparent as you can possibly be. Our administration, they know what we do and how we do it. They’re there all the time.”
Fleck is entering his seventh season with the Gophers. He is 44-27 with four bowl victories.
“My energy needs to be on the 2023 football team, and that only, and not the baseless allegations,” he said.
Although he sounded like a coach who wanted to discuss the subject, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh declined to offer any details about an NCAA investigation that is expected to result in a suspension this season.
“As you probably already know, I’m not allowed to talk about any aspect of that ongoing situation,” said Harbaugh, who is accused of lying about recruiting violations. “I’m with you. I’d love to lay it all out there. I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. But now is not that time. That’s about all there is to say about that.”
He declined to respond to five more related questions during an interview session that lasted 38 minutes.
Harbaugh is expected to serve a four-game suspension under a settlement between the school and the NCAA, The Associated Press has reported.
MOVE RIVALRY GAME?
A day after Ohio State coach Ryan Day suggested there should be a conversation about possibly moving the annual rivalry game with Michigan from the last regular-season date, Harbaugh didn’t seem too interested in changing a tradition that’s existed since 1935.
“We’ll play that whenever it’s scheduled,” Harbaugh said of the rivalry that started in 1897. “We know we’re going to play it every season at least once. I don’t have a particular opinion on when it should be played. Right now, it’s played that last game of the season. I think everybody is used to that. That’s part of the Thanksgiving tradition. That’s when we’ll expect it.”
The Big Ten’s shift to no divisions with a 12-team playoff in 2024 increases the likelihood of Michigan and Ohio State playing in back-to-back weeks, and possibly a third time if both qualify for the College Football Playoff.
“People see it from different points of view,” Day said. “I’m glad we still have the rivalry game. I do think we should consider when we play it, just because you may end up playing it back-to-back weeks ... which would be awkward. I know we need to consider the tradition, but I think it’s worth a conversation on when.
“I think we shouldn’t move it, but I think it’s worth talking about. The game could not have an impact on a whole bunch, in terms of if both teams are in the Big Ten championship game already, then could it minimize the game? That’s my concern.”
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