If you’ve always been a little suspicious about University of Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck, Jerry Kill shares your doubts.
Perhaps it’s Fleck’s relentless sloganeering, which makes him sound like he’s running a get-rich-quick real estate seminar at a hotel near the airport. Perhaps it’s his preening interviews, which tend to have a none-too-subtle undercurrent of self-importance.
If you weren’t the charitable type, you might get the feeling that P.J. Fleck is deeply in love with... P.J. Fleck. And there’s not much room left for love of another.
Were you to harbor such thoughts, you’d be in league with former Gophers coach Jerry Kill. He served at the U from 2011-2015, revitalizing the program with an old school pound-the-run, play defense formula. If Fleck is the showman, Kill was his polar opposite, a humble guy-next-door whose intellect carried far more firepower than might initially appear.
Yet he was forced to retire due to epilepsy. The U hired assistant Tracy Claeys, only to cast him aside after one year and row the boat with Fleck. Though Claeys led the team to a 9-4 season, Fleck was soon talking as if he’d inherited a ’94 Buick with no transmission and holes in the floorboards.
The obvious implication was that Kill, Claeys, and the players he assumed were not up to the more discerning standards of P.J. Fleck.
Two years later, it appears that Kill’s still seething. In an interview with SiriusXM yesterday, he unloaded on Fleck:
"He went into Minnesota and treated the people the way he treated my guys and telling 'em he had to go in and completely change the culture and it was a bad culture and bad people, you know, he made it sound like we didn’t know what we were doing, and I took it personal. You just don’t treat people that have been with you and helped your career and you don’t even talk to him, you know, once you get the job."
The pair has a history. Fleck was an assistant at Northern Illinois for two years while Kill was building it into a small-school powerhouse. Yet Kill believes Fleck went full narcissist after moving to Rutgers, where he served under the noted tyrant Greg Schiano.
"He coached with me, but after that, he changed a lot,” said Kill, who’s now the athletic director at Southern Illinois. “I’ll just be honest with you guys. People that have known him before—when he got with Schiano, his personality changed a lot...I mean, I helped him get the job at Western Michigan, and I just think sometimes, ego gets carried away."
The last time to the two spoke was when Fleck was hired at the U. Kill said it "wasn't good."
"Do I still root for the Gophers? I do. Do I enjoy him running up and down the sideline? No. Do I think that he’s about the players? No. He’s about himself. You can’t tell me. You’ve watched him. You listen to his interview, you think he thinks about the players?"