1st-place Minnesota gives coach PJ Fleck new 7-year contract

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)Prominently included in the endless supply of mottos and slogans that Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck uses to guide his players and tout the program is the importance of sustainability.

Fleck and the Gophers took their latest step Wednesday toward perpetuating that value, agreeing to a new seven-year contract that lasts through the 2028 season.

”We get to make a life here, not just make a living, and I think that is very difficult to find in our profession,” said Fleck, who was making $4.65 million this year before incentives.

Minnesota, which leads the Big Ten West Division with four games to go, added two years to Fleck’s deal, gave him a nominal annual raise, bumped up the budget for his assistants and increased the buyout he’d have to pay the university if he were to leave early for another job.

”P.J. is being genuine when he talks about he wants to be here,” athletic director Mark Coyle said. ”We have a coach that people are going to pay attention to on a national landscape, and his name comes up a lot, and so we feel like from an institutional perspective, having that high buyout obviously provides the protection.”

The deal, which is pending approval by the university’s board of regents, is as arguably as much about goodwill and symbolism as it is about money and term.

Fleck’s raise for 2022, the first full year of the new contract, is $300,000 – about 6%. Instead of escalating salaries, he now gets a flat $5 million in annual pay. The standard bonuses – $100,000 for winning or tying for the West Division title, for example – remain. There’s an addition of $100,000 each for the Gophers reaching eight and nine regular season wins. The supplementary salary pool for the purpose of attracting, retaining and rewarding assistants also rises to $350,000 next year, up from $200,000 in 2021.

The biggest increases came with the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program. The first-year buyout stayed at $10 million, but the next four seasons saw the following jumps: $4.5 million to $7 million in 2023, $3 million to $5 million in 2024, $3 million to $4 million in 2025, and $2 million to $3 million in 2026.

Fleck’s name was circulated in media speculation for recent head coach vacancies at Florida State, Tennessee and USC, which has yet to pick a full-time successor to Clay Helton. Even if those links have been all smoke and no fire, that matters not on the cutthroat recruiting circuit when it comes to competing with other schools for prospects.

”That’s why you do it now. You put that to bed. You know where you want to be,” said Fleck, who is 32-21 in four-plus seasons with the Gophers after leaving Western Michigan in 2017.

He signed the last page of the agreement Wednesday in front of his players at the end of practice.

”I wanted them to understand why I was doing that, because it was about them. It was about bringing their families back one day and having the same culture they played in be here,” Fleck said.

Fleck, who will turn 41 on Nov. 29, last had his contract increased and extended in 2019. The Gophers finished 11-2 that year, ranked 10th in the final Associated Press poll. This was the fourth adjustment made to his original 2017 deal, and he’s now in the upper middle class in terms of head coach compensation in the 14-team Big Ten.

Minnesota (6-2, 4-1) landed at No. 20 in the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings this week after beating Northwestern 41-14 for its fourth straight win.

The Gophers are alone atop their division, with Illinois due in town on Saturday. Their biggest tests will be the rivalry games at Iowa on Nov. 13 and the regular-season finale against Wisconsin on Nov. 27, matchups that will determine the West title.

”I think this sends a strong message that we want Minnesota to be a destination spot, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it here,” Coyle said. ”There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t compete at a high level, and it’s on us to continue to make that progress and growth.”

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