NFL coaching rumors: P.J. Fleck garnering interest for 2021 openings

Could P.J. Fleck be the next college program builder to make the leap to the pros? The latest NFL coaching rumors suggest it's possible.

NFL coaching rumors: P.J. Fleck garnering interest for 2021 openings
Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The latest NFL coaching rumors suggest Minnesota Golden Gophers boss P.J. Fleck could be on his way to the professional level.

After managing successful turnarounds in the Big Ten and rebuilding Western Michigan’s football program before then, it makes sense Fleck’s name is popping up among potential 2021 candidates.

NFL coaching rumors: At least one team reportedly wants P.J. Fleck interview

According to NFL Network insider Tom Pelissero, Fleck is among a “handful” of coaches at the collegiate level who’s being coveted for NFL head coach vacancies:

That last fact touched on above is particularly notable. Fleck played two seasons as a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers after going undrafted out of Northern Illinois in 2004.

Unlike some candidates who’ve coached only at the college level, such as Urban Meyer, Fleck does have experience as an NFL assistant, serving as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receivers coach in 2012.

Another interesting element to this rumor is the fact that Fleck’s buyout clause in his contract with the Golden Gophers drops to $4.5 million in 2021 as opposed to $10 million prior to then, per Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Related: NFL coaching candidates: Best head coach options for 2021

NFL coaching rumors: Potential suitors for P.J. Fleck

NFL coaching rumors: Potential suitors for P.J. Fleck
Jan 1, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach PJ Fleck reacts during the fourth quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that in addition to Meyer, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is a respected collegiate coach who’s expected to be targeted for NFL head coach openings this coming year.

Given the job Fitzgerald has done in his lengthy tenure with the Wildcats and how decorated Meyer is, it seems like Fleck might be an odd man out. On the other hand, making the leap from college to the pros is far from a guaranteed success. Just ask Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier.

Fleck is known for his enthusiasm and impassioned, extroverted demeanor, yet he’s also been around the NFL game and seems capable of adapting his leadership style to suit a locker room full of veterans.

The fact that he took Western Michigan from one-win obscurity in his first year in 2013 to a 13-1 record in 2016, and guided Minnesota to an 11-2 mark in 2019, shows Fleck can transform a losing culture.

Who might take a chance on Fleck in the NFL, though? With Meyer linked heavily to the Jacksonville Jaguars, let’s cut them out for now.

Two teams to potentially keep an eye on: the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons. Both franchises are at a crossroads and also need new general managers. They have at least some talent on their rosters and flexibility at the quarterback spot with Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan respectively.

With both organizations somewhat stuck in neutral, perhaps an energetic, credible leader like Fleck could be the out-of-the-box hire and spark Detroit or Atlanta need for a swift turnaround.

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