Fleck, Pitino share philosophies at Gopher Road Trip’s stop in New Ulm

NEW ULM — The new University of Minnesota head football coach P.J. Fleck said that his “Row the Boat” slogan is more than just three words to him.

“It is a never-give-up mantra,” Fleck said Tuesday at Turner Hall as the Gopher Road Trip stopped in New Ulm. “Back on February 9th, 2011 [when Fleck was the wide receivers coach at Rutgers], I lost my second son to a heart condition. We kind of invented ‘Row the Boat’ to kind of signify his life and I brought it into college football.

“There are three part of ‘Row the Boat.’ The oar is the energy that you bring to your life, the boat is the sacrifice — what are you willing to give up for something — and the compass is the direction of your life set by the people that you surround yourself with. It has nothing to really do with football. It is how our culture is being built in that we want row the boat-type players here.”

Fleck came to Minnesota from Western Michigan, where he took a team that went 1-11 in 2013 and changed it into a team that went 13-1 with a berth in the Cotton Bowl last year.

When asked if he feels more pressure coming in with a lot of big expectations, he said it is good that people are excited about Gopher football.

“We do have a long way to go, to be honest,” he said. “We have not won a championship in 50 years and it does not happen overnight. But we are here to instill a championship culture.”

Fleck got a late start in recruiting but he said that recruiting is going phenomenal.

“We only had two weeks to recruit the 2017 class but our 2018 recruiting class is ranked in the top 12 in the country,” Fleck said. “We have the third-most commitments in the country for next year already, so we are on our way.”

Fleck said that it is normal for people to measure success by the number of wins. But instilling off-the-field success is also important.

“We want to win a Big Ten and a national championship — that is the ultimate goal,” Fleck said. “We want to be the best that we can today and get better tomorrow.”

PITINO SAW LATE IMPROVEMENT: Two years ago, Minnesota head men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino’s team won just eight games.

But there was a message in the latter parts of that season that gave him reason for optimism.

“It is always difficult when you don’t have a good season,” he said. “But I thought that the way that we were finishing the year — we were playing good basketball — and our younger players were getting better. But the toughest part was the external noise in getting that to quiet down and getting our guys to not stop believing. And they did that. We did not stop believing. We knew it but we also knew we had to let our play do the talking and fortunately we did that.”

Minnesota won 24 games last year and had the biggest improvement of any college basketball team in the country and earned Pitino, who many people felt was on thin ice, earn the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.

Pitino said that he did not have any specific talks with his father, Rick, the head coach basketball coach at Louisville, after the eight-win season.

“He’s my dad,” Pitino said. “I need him to be my father. He stays out of that part of it. It was not a surprise that we had to start over back then — he knew it and I told him that. Every coach goes through that at some time, I had a great belief that we would be pretty good this year. We were and now we have to get better.”

Even though there were people who doubted Pitino after the eight-win season, he said he could not take it personally.

“That is part of the profession,” he said. “You do not get celebrated when you win eight games, I am grateful when people praise you. The more steady you are in this profession the less emotional and volatile you get and the better chance you have to succeed.

“We have high expectations this season and they should be high. But it is all about getting better.”