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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:
A handful of college coaches are drawing interest for NFL head coaching jobs, and here’s an interesting one: Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck.
I’m told at least one team wants to interview Fleck, 40, who’s one of the only current FBS head coaches to both play and coach in the NFL.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 30, 2020
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.