Jerry Kill’s New Mexico State Aggies play P.J. Fleck and his Minnesota Gophers in both teams’ season opener on September 1. For many reasons, there should be a whiff of nostalgia in the air. For not only is Coach Kill returning to the site of past glories, but he is also reuniting with his former Southern Illinois assistant Fleck. But entirely different winds are blowing.
For a variety of reasons centered around Fleck’s hiring at Minnesota, Jerry Kill cannot stand P.J. Fleck. The bone of contention goes back to comments Fleck after he was named coach of the Gophers in 2017.
Claeys’ Fired as Gophers Coach
Tracy Claeys, a long-time Kill assistant had been fired the previous January after going 9-4 and leading the Gophers to a Holiday Bowl victory. The reason: Claeys defended some Minnesota players who were accused of sexual assault. The University would go on to expel four of these players.
At the time of Claeys’ firing, Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle said in part: “I determined that the football program must move in a new direction to address challenges in recruiting, ticket sales, and the culture of the program.” Fleck upon his hiring at Minnesota picked up on Coyle’s theme and proceeded to tell Minnesota fans and media that he was brought in to change the culture of Minnesota Football.
P.J. Fleck Comes on Board
Kill was a believer that he had been instrumental in helping to turn the Gophers’ program around and he took umbrage to P.J. Fleck’s perceived grandstanding. Kill said at the time of Fleck’s hiring: “You just don’t treat people that have been with you and helped your career and you don’t even talk to them once you get the job. He changed a lot; I’ll just be honest with you guys.”
Included in these comments was a veiled comment about Fleck’s treatment of his former wife. Fleck to his credit has always said that he still has a great deal of respect for Coach Kill.
Coach Kill Still has Hurt Feelings
Kill’s hurt feelings partially stems from his belief that he helped Fleck secure the Western Michigan head coaching position in 2012. Adding further insult to injury. Kill’s appearance at a Minnesota sports booster club breakfast was recently canceled due to negative feedback from some members about his scheduled appearance.
Kill’s team comes into the game as 37.5 underdogs to the home field Gophers. P.J. Fleck has continued to concentrate on his team and the upcoming game. He has refused to play media wars with Coach Kill. Some people think the most exciting part of the contest might be the after-game handshake between the two coaches. Or perhaps, there won’t be a handshake.
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