Gopher Coach PJ Fleck Asks Owatonna Crowd, ‘Can You Imagine?’
New University of Minnesota football coach PJ Fleck headlined the annual Golden Gopher road trip stop in Owatonna on Tuesday morning.
Fleck spoke to a packed banquet hall at the Holiday Inn. He asked the Gopher supporters to let their imaginations soar. He asked them to imagine ESPN's College Game Day coming to Minnesota, to imagine and believe the Gophers can take the steps toward contending for and eventually winning a national championship.
Fleck says all people around and cheering on the team have to change the way they talk, think, act and believe. He called the opportunity to coach at a Big Ten school, "a dream come true for me at 36 (years old)." He later added, "I dream big...If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough." Known for his "row the boat" mantra, Fleck was presented with an oar from Federated Insurance, who is a major Gopher backer.
Gopher play-by-play announcer Mike Grimm led the program, which was free and included a buffet breakfast. He interviewed several of the Gopher coaches, including longtime women's rowing coach Wendy Davis. She said for years she's been trying to get the word out about rowing, "PJ Fleck shows up and my life has changed."
Men's hockey coach Don Lucia sang the praises of the Big Ten, saying the angst among fans can "be put to rest" as he sees the conference continue to improve and with the addition of Notre Dame. Former Gopher and North Star Lou Nanne was also in Owatonna. He did not speak to the crowd.
Men's basketball coach Richard Pitino opened the program and basked in the glory of a wildly successful season that included an NCAA tournament appearance. Pitino came to Owatonna as a beleaguered coach a year ago, with many calling for his dismissal. His change in fortune includes Big Ten coach of the year honors plus a recent contract extension.
University of Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle is just days shy of his one year anniversary at the post. His first official duty in 2016 was the road trip. He spoke of adding stability to the university's athletics department and proudly stated that Minnesota is the highest rated public university with regard to student-athlete success.
The conference's men's gymnastics coach of the year Mike Burns celebrated his 59th birthday by walking on his hands. Goldy Gopher did one better by spinning his head entirely around. First-year wrestling coach Brandon Eggum expressed his excitement over becoming the coach.
A highlight video of the many Gopher sports accomplishments was shown to open the event and the Minnesota rouser closed it.