P.J. Fleck is a well-known name in the college football world, as he is the head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He has led the team to a 46-27 record since 2017, including a Big Ten West Division title in 2019. But before he became a successful coach, did he play in the NFL?
P.J. Fleck’s Career Path
The answer is yes, but only briefly. Fleck was a wide receiver who played college football at Northern Illinois, where he set several school records and was a second-team Academic All-American. He was not drafted in the 2004 NFL Draft but signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers.
Fleck impressed 49ers head coach Dennis Erickson with his toughness and work ethic, earning the nickname “frickin’ warrior” during the rookie training camp.
However, he did not make the final roster and was placed on the practice squad. He spent most of his short NFL career there, appearing in only one regular-season game in 2004. He did not record any statistics in that game.
Fleck’s NFL career ended after he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery. He decided to pursue a coaching career instead, starting as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 2006. He then coached wide receivers at Northern Illinois, Rutgers, and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before becoming the head coach of Western Michigan in 2013.
He led the Broncos to a 30-22 record and a MAC championship in four seasons before taking over the Minnesota job in 2017.
Fleck is known for his energetic and motivational coaching style and signature phrase, “Row the Boat,” which he uses to inspire his players and fans. He has also been recognized as one of the best young coaches in college football, winning two MAC Coach of the Year awards (2014 and 2016) and one Big Ten Coach of the Year award (2019).
Fleck may not have had a long or successful NFL career as a player, but he has made his mark as a coach. He is one of the few coaches who have played in the NFL, even if it was only for a short time. He has used his experience and passion to build winning programs at Western Michigan and Minnesota, and he is still aiming for higher goals.