Minnesota gives coach P.J. Fleck new 7-year contract

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Prominently included in the endless supply of mottos and slogans that Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck uses to guide his players and tout the program is the importance of sustainability.

Fleck and the Gophers took their latest step toward perpetuating that value, agreeing to a new seven-year contract that lasts through the 2028 season.

“We get to make a life here, not just make a living, and I think that is very difficult to find in our profession,” said Fleck, who was making $4.65 million this year before incentives.

Minnesota, which leads the Big Ten West Division with four games to go, added two years to Fleck’s deal, gave him a nominal annual raise, bumped up the budget for his assistants and increased the buyout he’d have to pay the university if he were to leave early for another job.

“P.J. is being genuine when he talks about he wants to be here,” athletic director Mark Coyle said. “We have a coach that people are going to pay attention to on a national landscape, and his name comes up a lot, and so we feel like from an institutional perspective, having that high buyout obviously provides the protection.”

The deal, which is pending approval by the university’s board of regents, is as arguably as much about goodwill and symbolism as it is about money and term.

Fleck’s raise for 2022, the first full year of the new contract, is $300,000 – about 6%. Instead of escalating salaries, he now gets a flat $5 million in annual pay. The standard bonuses – $100,000 for winning or tying for the West Division title, for example – remain. There’s an addition of $100,000 each for the Gophers reaching eight and nine regular season wins. The supplementary salary pool for the purpose of attracting, retaining and rewarding assistants also rises to $350,000 next year, up from $200,000 in 2021.

The biggest increases came with the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program. The first-year buyout stayed at $10 million, but the next four seasons saw the following jumps: $4.5 million to $7 million in 2023, $3 million to $5 million in 2024, $3 million to $4 million in 2025, and $2 million to $3 million in 2026.

Fleck’s name was circulated in media speculation for recent head coach vacancies at Florida State, Tennessee and USC, which has yet to pick a full-time successor to Clay Helton. Even if those links have been all smoke and no fire, that matters not on the cutthroat recruiting circuit when it comes to competing with other schools for prospects.

“That’s why you do it now. You put that to bed. You know where you want to be,” said Fleck, who is 32-21 in four-plus seasons with the Gophers after leaving Western Michigan in 2017.

He signed the last page of the agreement Wednesday in front of his players at the end of practice.

“I wanted them to understand why I was doing that, because it was about them. It was about bringing their families back one day and having the same culture they played in be here,” Fleck said.

Fleck, who will turn 41 on Nov. 29, last had his contract increased and extended in 2019. The Gophers finished 11-2 that year, ranked 10th in the final Associated Press poll. This was the fourth adjustment made to his original 2017 deal, and he’s now in the upper middle class in terms of head coach compensation in the 14-team Big Ten.

Minnesota (6-2, 4-1) landed at No. 20 in the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings this week after beating Northwestern 41-14 for its fourth straight win.

The Gophers are alone atop their division, with Illinois due in town on Saturday. Their biggest tests will be the rivalry games at Iowa on Nov. 13 and the regular-season finale against Wisconsin on Nov. 27, matchups that will determine the West title.

“I think this sends a strong message that we want Minnesota to be a destination spot, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it here,” Coyle said. “There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t compete at a high level, and it’s on us to continue to make that progress and growth.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.