WMU's P.J. Fleck might be fit at Minnesota

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
P.J. Fleck

Arlington, Texas -- Western Michigan might have one more bullet to dodge when it comes to keeping coach P.J. Fleck.

There are rumblings that Tracy Claeys could be in trouble at Minnesota, following a rocky season that included the late-season suspension of 10 players following a sexual-assault allegation, and a subsequent threat by the rest of the team to skip its bowl game if the suspensions weren't reversed.

Minnesota players eventually backed down from the boycott threat and the Gophers won their bowl, 17-12 over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.

A report in 247Sports indicated Fleck would be a candidate should Minnesota decide to fire Claeys. Claeys admitted he was putting his job at risk by publicly supporting the threatened boycott. Reports say Claeys is scheduled to meet with administrators Tuesday.

Claeys, 48, a former defensive line coach at Saginaw Valley State, just completed his second year and first full season as Minnesota's head coach, after taking over following Jerry Kill's resignation amid health concerns.

Fleck, 36, coaching 13-0 Western Michigan in Monday's Cotton Bowl, is "close" to an extension and a raise at WMU, The Detroit News first reported last month. But the deal, expected to at least double his $800,000 base salary and add years on to a current deal that runs through 2020, has not yet been officially finalized.

Fleck has said publicly his focus has been solely on Cotton Bowl preparation.

WMU goes toe to toe with big boys in recruiting

The holdup on the finalization of the deal is believed to be increased compensation for Fleck's assistant coaches.

Fleck's name was linked to several jobs after the Mid-American Conference title-game win over Ohio on Dec. 2, mostly Purdue and Oregon. Fleck wasn't overly interested in Purdue, and Oregon never reached out. He never considered Cincinnati, believing he already had the best Group of Five job.

That's when extension talks perked up with Western Michigan, which has high-power donors in Kalamazoo paying the bulk of Fleck's salary, tops in the MAC.

Minnesota is seen as a better job than Purdue, though, as it has made significant strides in facility upgrades. It's also squarely in the Midwest, where Fleck was born and raised and is most comfortable, particularly on the recruiting trail.

Western Michigan players have been under the impression for several weeks that Fleck, in his fourth year with the Broncos, will return for 2017 and beyond.

Fleck has a $600,000 buyout if he were to leave Western Michigan for another job in the next year.

Fired LSU coach Les Miles and perhaps even just-fired 49ers coach Chip Kelly could also be candidates should Minnesota fire Claeys. There could be more prime college jobs available in the coming days, too, with at least six NFL head-coaching vacancies.


Twitter @tonypaul1984