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No rest for Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck looks on during pregame warmups before a game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Nov. 11, 2017. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Although the Gophers signed their entire 2018 recruiting class in December and were quiet on the traditional national signing day Wednesday, Feb. 7, P.J. Fleck still maintained a packed schedule.

Minnesota's football coach finished an early afternoon meeting with general manager Gerrit Chernoff and ate a couple bites of tacos as he talked with the Pioneer Press for 25 minutes in his new corner office at the Larson Football Performance Center. Then he had another phone interview at the bottom of the hour.

"I woke up this morning and I said, 'Is it signing day? Oh, it's signing day,'" Fleck said. "It was kind of a joke, and there was a lot of sarcasm involved in that joke, but it was odd waking up (Wednesday) morning and there was no pressure. There is no stress of who is signing, who are the boosters coming and what are we doing and where am I speaking?"

The Gophers signed a 25-member recruiting class during the new early signing period in December and were then able to get a jump-start on their 2019 class. Minnesota's class ranked 35th in the nation and seventh in the Big Ten on Wednesday night, according to the composite order. The U also announced the addition of eight preferred walk-ons for 2018 on Wednesday — including new quarterback Vic Viramontes, who has exceeded expectations since arriving on campus a few weeks ago.

"It's been incredibly beneficial for our program," Fleck said of the early signing window. "I think everyone has had their own way of doing it, and now I think everyone has their own way of what they are going to do in the future because of what happened this year. There are probably people that love it, and there are probably some people that hate it just like any rule or new implementation of a new process."

In January, Gophers staff was on the recruiting trail looking for potential recruits for the 2019 class. "I think that is incredibly critical as you keep going though the process that we spent all of our time on 2019s in January," he said. "And we are way ahead of where we were (last year)."

Since the end of the 2017 season — Fleck's first with the Gophers — three assistant coaches have left. Defensive backs coach Mo Linguist went to Texas A&M, offensive line coach Ed Warinner left for Michigan and defensive line coach Bryce Paup exited for an undisclosed spot.

"Look at any program — Alabama lost its offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) and he went to the Buffalo Bills," Fleck said. "It's a compliment. I want my coaches to move on. I don't want them forever. I want their hopes and dreams and aspirations (of) becoming a head coach and coaching in the National Football League and coaching ... near home."

Fleck said several assistant coaches "turned down opportunities to stay, which says a lot about our program."

The Gophers have since added Clay Patterson, the former head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, to an unspecified role with the offense and defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae, who was previously at Arizona. A third hire to replace Paup has been made but is not yet official.

During the run-up to the Super Bowl, the Gophers felt a boost from the Philadelphia Eagles practicing in their new indoor facility and through other visitors. Free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins spoke to the team and then with Fleck for an hour and a half about culture and leadership. Southern Cal QB Sam Darnold, who has declared for the NFL draft, worked out with Gophers players on the new indoor practice field and called it one of the best facilities he's been in. Former NFL punter Pat McAfee, who now hosts a show on Barstool Sports, also made appearances, including in Gophers hype videos.

"The great thing is they wanted to visit," Fleck said. "They wanted to spend time with us, they wanted to be able to spend time around our culture and learn more about it, which I thought was really neat. It wasn't, 'I'm coming to work out.' ... Everything that we had happen was very beneficial for the brand of the University of Minnesota that doesn't necessarily always happen if that type of event is not in town."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.