Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reality television meets Row The Boat for first-year Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck

                                                         Photo Credit: Geno Green

CHICAGO— Move over Kardashians, first-year Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is coming to reality television in primetime.

“BEING P.J. Fleck,” premieres in a four-episode series Aug. 2 on ESPNU at 8 p.m. ET, which focuses on Minnesota’s off-season and will run each Wednesday. ESPN came pitched the idea to the school after being hired in January.

“First of all, they approached us. This wasn't something that we said: We're going to have a reality show; let's go find somebody to air it,” Fleck said. “They approached us, which was an honor. One thing I am hired to do is bring national exposure, national attention to the University of Minnesota. And that's what we're going to do.”

“I don't know what the show is going to be like. I don't know if this is going to be like the Kardashians or they're going to spin it that way or it's going to be a little bit tamer. But it will be a little interesting to see what comes out of the reality show.”

Whether the show will be a success or not can be debated, but one thing Fleck has sold fans and recruits on is the “Row The Boat” mantra.

The slogan helped Western Michigan gain a national identity over the last five seasons, highlighted by a Mid-American Conference championship and a Cotton Bowl trip last season, before taking the coaching job at Minnesota.

“Going back I think it was five years ago, we brought [Row The Boat] to Western Michigan,” Fleck said. “And for a university to be able to use that logo, you've got to be able to trademark it, license it, and then you also have to do it with the university's logo to use it.”

Through the lowest of lows with a 1-11 mark in 2013 to the highest of highs at 13-1 in 2016, Fleck views Row The Boat as more than a cliché, but as a way of life and how to face adversity to climb to the top of the mountain.

“I think we're very lucky, we're very honored to be able to have a slogan behind our brand and our image that means way more than football; that even football fans of football can enjoy and then people who maybe aren't necessarily fans of football can still truly connect with our culture of what row the boat means,” Fleck said.

In an era where social media is as relevant and key to staying hot, Fleck knows the job of being a coach in a Power Five conference is a constant sales pitch.

“I think every head football coach in America is self-promoting at some point,” Fleck said. “We're all selling ourselves and showing what we're like and recruiting our cultures and developing our cultures. You're the front porch of the institution.”

Expectations are sky-high for Fleck with a nine-win team inherited from last season— the most since 2003, but knows in order to become the talk of the campus, winning is a must.

“You're not the most important thing on campus, but you're the front porch of nationally what everybody sees, and you're representing a ton of people, from the faculty, to our administration, to our Board of Regents, to President Kaler, the athletic director, Mark Coyle, to our players, to our Twin Cities, to our state. You're representing so much,” Fleck said.

As the front door approaches on the season, a reality television series, the Row The Boat slogan and consistent success could make for an eventful run at Minnesota, where success has come few and far between in its history.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.