P.J. Fleck is rowing his boat to the land of 10,000 lakes.
Choppy waters are waiting for him there.
Three days after firing coach Tracy Claeys after the program's best season since 2003, the Golden Gophers hired a Golden Boy in the 36-year-old Fleck. He led Western Michigan to an undefeated regular season, capped by a MAC title and a Cotton Bowl bid, just three years removed from going 1-11 in his first season in Kalamazoo.
Before Claeys firing, the coaching carousel had stopped spinning. Fleck had reportedly shrugged off interest from smaller jobs like Cincinnati and Houston and appeared to be docking in WMU's harbor for at least one more season.
Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle, who was hired in May, fired Claeys a little more than a year after the previous administration removed the interim tag from his title after Jerry Kill left the program for health reasons.
Last month, 10 Minnesota players were suspended for the Holiday Bowl amid a Title IX investigation of a sexual assault earlier that fall. Four players had been suspended earlier in the season, but no players were charged with a crime, and none of the four men who were suspended were arrested. Unsatisfied with the administration's response and transparency, the Gophers began a boycott of all football activity and their threats to pull out of the Holiday Bowl became national news.
Claeys publicly backed his players, saying he supported them exercising their First Amendment rights.
The once-controversial protests amid cloudy details became a point of shame after an 80-page report of the university's investigation became public, shining a light on the unsavory details that led to the suspensions. For universities, the burden of proof to punish students after Title IX investigations is much lower than it is for law enforcement agencies to bring charges.
On Tuesday, Claeys got a predictable pink slip. He'd only first become a coordinator at the Power 5 level in 2011, and went just 2-4 after taking over for Kill in 2015. Turns out, undermining those who sign your paychecks is a good way to stop receiving those pay checks, especially when your buyout is only $500,000 and a coach like Fleck is within reach. None of Claeys' nine wins could save him.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner warned of mass transfers as a result of the firing, and Claeys didn't bother with the high road.
"I won't be up here freezing my ass off, so y'all enjoy the winter," he told TV cameras. Kill, who left an administration job at Kansas State to become Rutgers defensive coordinator last month, promised a Minnesota radio station that he'll never step foot in the stadium or football facility ever again.
So ... welcome to Minneapolis, P.J.
Coyle certainly relished the opportunity to hand-pick the man in charge with his most valuable asset, and he did exactly that. He found Fleck, whose boundless energy and penchant for catchphrases along with his ability to literally build WMU from the ground up landed him on the short list for several jobs and inspired lust from fans at countless programs who, to borrow a phrase from Fleck, were tired of being average.
"P.J. is a proven winner and a strong leader. He's built a unique, positive culture that gets the best out of his students on the field and in the classroom," Coyle said. "His infectious energy and passion make him a terrific coach and dynamic recruiter. I am excited he will be leading the Gophers for years to come."
Fleck's first major job will be in the upper Midwest where he's spent nearly all of his coaching career. Better yet, he'll be in the Big Ten West, one of the most mediocre divisions in football and one that he won't share with Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio or James Franklin.
Instead, he'll have to jockey with Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska to try and climb the ladder inside the division.
As for his boat rowing days, it will take some work for Fleck to keep his oar in the water. Western Michigan owns the trademark for Fleck's signature phrase, and it's become a program mantra. Fans chant it. Oars decorate the Broncos' jerseys and helmets.
But at the core, it's a mantra born out of the death of Fleck's newborn son in February 2011. He coined it as a way to remember him and to live his life in a way to honor him.
If it's going to follow Fleck to Minnesota, it'll probably cost the university some coin, and even then, there's no guarantee. Fleck gave an anonymous directional university in Michigan an identity. It might not be ready to give that up.
On the field, Minnesota makes sense for Fleck, but it's going to take a whole lot of work off the field to heal a wounded, fractured program. Few boats in college football have taken on more water in the past month.
The Gophers believe they have the man to fix it.