The Coach That Never Sleeps (Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Minnesota)

Robert Cole/ALOST


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

NEW YORK — Combine Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck, a man who fits the description of having a personality so lively that he makes coffee nervous, and New York City, whose bright lights and endless amounts of entertainment options are cause for sleepless nights, and we might have the perfect fit between head coach and city during the 2022 bowl season.

After another season of memorable wins, yet another near-miss at playing for a conference championship, Minnesota will end its 2022 football campaign playing in the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium tomorrow afternoon against Syracuse University. A victory on Thursday will mark the Gophers’ third nine-win season in the past four seasons.

For at least one day, Fleck, the man who has led the Golden Gophers to near-halcyon-level success in his six seasons in the Twin Cities, spent time on Broadway seeing The Music Man, the story about an engaging con man posing as a music teacher planning to leave town after his latest deception before falling in love with a piano teacher and helping her brother overcome his social awkwardness. Outside of the con game, Fleck’s arrival in Minneapolis has had parallels, arriving from Western Michigan with his boundless energy and the “Row Your Boat” mantra that has entranced countless Gophers fans — and produced winning seasons in four of the five non-COVID-interrupted campaigns.

Along with being in the Big Apple, Fleck’s time in the Bronx and inside of Yankee Stadium is also apropos, as his most recent coaching stop before Minneapolis saw him reside in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the hometown of New York Yankees legend and Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. While at Western Michigan University, Fleck got the chance to meet Jeter, and the opportunity to take the same field that Jeter’s spikes graced at the end of his career is a full-circle moment.

“Derek actually gave a scholarship away when I was at Western Michigan University to one of our punters who was a baseball player. [Derek] was his favorite player,” Fleck said. So Derek and his wife gave a scholarship to Derrick Mitchell in our office, and that was one of the coolest 30 minutes of my entire life because I got a chance to spend time with him and pick his brain.”

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