CHICAGO — Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck reveled Thursday, July 18, at Big Ten media days that West Virginia had more than a courtship with Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarricca.

New Mountaineers coach Neal Brown had a commitment from Ciarrocca at one point in January.

“I lost him at one point,” Fleck said from the Hilton Chicago. “He literally called me at 11 p.m. and said, ‘I’m going.’ Nobody knows this. I sat there and said Kirk, ‘You have given me six amazing years,’ and I said, ‘I couldn’t be happier for you.’ ”

Then Fleck’s phone rang at 2 a.m., waking him up. Fleck’s said his first thought was Ciarrocca wanted more money but that would have been a non-starter.

“He says, ‘Is that spot still available?’ ” Fleck recalled. “I was like, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘I just really want to be there (at Minnesota). I really love what we are doing and truly believe in what we can do.’ ”

This isn’t the first time Ciarrocca has had suitors.

“Every year people come after him,” Fleck said. “Last year, it was an SEC school (Auburn), and the year before that, it was somebody else, and (at) Western Michigan, he had options.”

Fleck overlooked

The annual poll of Big Ten reporters asked a new question this year: “If you were the athletics director at a good football school and could hire any current Big Ten head coach to run your program, which is your pick?

Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald was the top pick with 14 of the 33 votes; Nebraska’s Scott Frost was second with nine; Purdue’s Jeff Brohm had four.

Fleck didn’t receive a vote.

Rounding out the polling was Penn State’s James Franklin and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh with two apiece. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and new Ohio State coach Ryan Day had one each.

Shut out again

No Gophers players were named to the conference’s 10-member preseason watch list for a ninth straight season. Minnesota remains the only conference team to not have a representative on this list.

The West division players were Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher, Purdue receiver Rondale Moore and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.

The East representatives were Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie and defensive end Kenny Willekes, Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young, and Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.

It seemed like this could have been the year Minnesota ended its drought with either defensive end Carter Coughlin or receiver Tyler Johnson.

Johnson, however, was among 50 players named Thursday to the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the best receiver in the country.


The BTN2GO and FoxSportsGo apps will no longer stream conference games in 2019, with the content moving to the Fox Sports app, new Big Ten Network president Francois McGillicuddy said Thursday. … Gophers holder and cancer survivor Casey O’Brien will give the student-athlete speech during Friday’s luncheon. “He will knock your socks off with his talk,” Fleck said. “You are in for an emotional rollercoaster with him.” … Fleck, his wife Heather, and Gophers players Coughlin, Johnson, O’Brien and Mo Ibrahim watched the “Hamilton” musical in Chicago on Wednesday. It was the Flecks fifth time seeing the popular show focused on one of the Founding Fathers.