PJ Fleck As an NFL Head Coaching Candidate Reflects the Changing Times

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So here’s an item that at first made me roll my eyes, but after examining it a little further, I realized it’s not entirely outlandish. According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Media, Minnesota’s PJ Fleck’s name is getting thrown into the ring of the NFL head coaching carousel:

My first thought was that Fleck went 3-4 at Minnesota this season, and it’s unclear why anyone would be tripping over themselves to lock him in. It felt to me almost like Kliff Kingsbury getting an opportunity in the NFL when his accomplishments at the college level did not qualify him for the job.

However, Fleck went 11-2 with a win in the Outback Bowl last year, and Minnesota isn’t an easy place to do that. The last time they had 11 wins in a season was 1904. Fleck also went 13-1 at Western Michigan in 2016. The most wins Western Michigan has had in any other season of their existence, which dates back to 1962, was nine.

Historically, I’m still not sure Fleck would be in the mix for an NFL head coaching job. He would have been a sexy name for a job like Texas or Florida State or any of the top 10 or 15 programs with a real or hypothetical opening, but NFL teams are increasingly willing to look beyond the blue bloods of the college ranks. Coaches like Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Steve Spurrier, and Nick Saban all won at least one national title at a big program before making the jump to the NFL. Jim Harbaugh and Bobby Petrino, who weren’t as accomplished as the others, both left for the NFL after 12-1 seasons in which their teams won the Orange Bowl.

But times have changed. Matt Rhule had a considerable reclamation project on his hands at Baylor, but going 11-2 there would never have entitled him to a seven-year, $62 million contract in the NFL until recently. Matt Campbell has never won more than eight games at Iowa State, but it feels like we hear every year around this time that NFL teams could be considering him. Then we get to Kliff Kingsbury, who went 35-40 at Texas Tech and got hired by the Cardinals after Texas Tech fired him following a 5-7 season.

Under the new context, PJ Fleck actually does make some sense as an NFL head coaching candidate.



Written by Ryan Glasspiegel

Ryan Glasspiegel grew up in Connecticut, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and lives in Chicago. Before OutKick, he wrote for Sports Illustrated and The Big Lead. He enjoys expensive bourbon and cheap beer.


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  1. PJ Fleck’ personality will not work in the NFL. He got the Minnesota job because he won at Western Michigan and UM was desperate to hire a coach with a winning record and head coaching experience. UM is not an attractive job for top coaching candidates. His rah rah ‘row the boat’ act will not fly with NFL pros. PJ should stay at UM and build a consistent winner.

    • He kind of reminds me of Pete Carroll in a way.

      It might work for a few years or so…but eventually it wears thin. Basically his success or failure in the NFL will be what QB he has.

      • I disagree. Pete Carroll is not nearly as cheesy as PJ Fleck. Pete Carroll’s coaching style works anywhere, NFL or college. PJ Fleck will only work at some college programs – not the NFL.

  2. I think we vastly overrate NFL Head Coaches, there has been some incredibly bad NFL head coaches who were in the right place at the right time, and more importantly knew the right people to get Head Coaching jobs. Same goes for the college ranks, but there is so much more that goes into building a college winner, if you can’t land top 25 recruiting classes you will not consistently win at a high level.

    Don’t even get me started on what passes as NBA head coaches, that is the most overrated, “roll the balls out on the floor” group in all of pro sports. Its very telling that it took Coach K to get the pro basketball dipshits to play legitimate team basketball in the Olympics. I would rather watch a pick up game at the YMCA than the NBA regular season. You get much better defense from the 52 year old guy with the knee and elbow braces.

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