Fleck shows energy to Twin Cities suburbs, where plans to recruit and keep the elite at home

WOODBURY, Minn.--P.J. Fleck wasted no time stating his intentions for local recruitment at his introductory news conference at the beginning of the month.

WOODBURY, Minn.-P.J. Fleck wasted no time stating his intentions for local recruitment at his introductory news conference at the beginning of the month.

Minnesota recruits were going to be his.

"We're ... going to recruit the finest student-athletes in the country, and you know where we're going to start, and you know where we're going to build walls up around? Our elite state of Minnesota," the new Gophers football coach said. "That's what I'm dedicated to. We're going to draw a circle six to seven hours around the Twin City area, and then we're going to go to work, because we want to fill the Bank every single game."

He continued his construction of those walls Tuesday, visiting schools in the metro, including East Ridge and Woodbury, to speak with coaches and lock down commitments.

Woodbury coach Andy Hill kept an eye on Western Michigan when Fleck was guiding the Broncos.


"(I was) just kind of intrigued," Hill said, "loving his energy and his message."

So Hill was excited to hear Fleck got the job here, adding it seemed to be a contrast from what Minnesota had before. But there's what you hear and see about someone from afar and what you experience face to face. The two don't always line up, but sometimes they do.

"The culture ... giving back and making a difference. He lived it," Hill said. "That was my overall impression."

"Everything you've seen from Western Michigan, he's that way all the time," East Ridge coach Dan Fritze said. "The energy he brings to everything he does is very real and positive. I'm a believer."

Fleck visited kicker Grant Ryerse and running back Dominik London at East Ridge, and Fritze said both oral commits are "100 percent" committed to the Gophers.

Hill had received a few calls about Woodbury tight end and Gophers commit Nathan Bursch from other schools since the change in coaching staffs at Minnesota but said the meeting Tuesday between Bursch and Fleck seemed to reaffirm a commitment from Bursch that was never truly in question.

Fritze said it "means a lot" to see Fleck make the trip to area high schools, rather than making a few phone calls. It was a rare sight. Neither coach remembers Tracy Claeys visiting Woodbury or East Ridge. Hill doesn't remember the last time an FBS coach came to Woodbury High School.

"It seemed to be obviously on the top of his list to get around to Minnesota schools and keep kids in Minnesota a priority," Fritze said. "That was really good to see."


Fritze said Fleck wants to let people know what he's all about and what Minnesota football will be all about. Hill said that included a lot of talk about culture.

"One of the things I loved that he said: 'I don't want kids who want to be a Gopher; I want kids who need to be a Gopher,' " Hill recounted.

Fritze said he was a little surprised by Fleck's visit this early in his Gophers tenure.

"I know how busy he is," Fritze said. "But I think after meeting him, I shouldn't be surprised."

Hill talked about the openness of the Gophers program, saying he feels like he could ask to come sit in on a meeting tonight and be welcomed into the building.

"They just said come any time you want," Hill said.

Both Fritze and Hill seemed confident in sending their players to the state's lone Division I football program.

"He makes me feel comfortable giving an endorsement to families," Fritze said.


Said Hill: "I told (Fleck) it's literally the first time in my life I've been excited for Gopher football."

Sawvel talking with Wake Forest

Former Gophers defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel is in discussions to fill the same position with Wake Forest, a source told the Pioneer Press.

Sawvel was fired alongside Claeys and the majority of the staff on Jan. 3.

After a strong debut as coordinator last season, Sawvel was mulling offers from three schools in Power Five conferences last week.

More staff added

Fleck announced Tuesday the hiring of nine assistant coaches and four staff members.

Kirk Ciarrocca will be offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, with Kenni Burns (running backs), Brian Callahan (tight ends), Matt Simon (receivers) and Ed Warinner (offensive line) Warinner is the only new addition from Fleck's previous staff at Western Michigan; he was Ohio State's offensive coordinator last season and has not worked with Fleck.


Robb Smith will be defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, with Maurice Linguist (defensive backs), Bryce Paup (defensive line) and Robert Wenger (special-teams coordinator). Smith was Arkansas' defensive coordinator, and he coached with Fleck when they were both assistants at Rutgers. Wenger comes from Western Michigan, while Linguist and Paup are new to Fleck.

Fleck also appointed Gerrit Chernoff to be general manager in charge of off-field relations; Dan Nichol will be head strength and conditioning coach; Marcus Hendrickson will be director of player personnel; and Matt Childers will be director of video.

Andy Greder contributed to this report.

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