New Gophers coach dealt with player crimes in past
Change has come to the University of Minnesota football coaching staff in the form of Western Michigan University’s P.J. Fleck, who Athletic Director Mark Coyle said will instill “integrity and class” into the program.
After serious allegations of sexual assault resulted in the suspension of 10 players and a threatened bowl game boycott, former head coach Tracy Claeys resisted investigations and punishments carried out against members of his team. Soon after, the University removed Claeys from his post with a $500,000 buyout and hired Fleck to replace him.
Fleck’s record and statements suggest he can hold up his promises. In a Jan. 6 press conference, he claimed to have come to the University not just to win games, but also to “change a culture” to build expectations of excellence for the University football program, expectations that instill “a zero-tolerance policy” for sexual assault. In his first meeting with players, Fleck instructed them to attend their classes, sit in the front rows, and to wear collared shirts on campus.
However, misconduct still occurred under Fleck’s guidance at Western Michigan. His notoriously aggressive recruiting programs have made it hard to know everything about players’ history and ethics before they join the team. For instance, last September two players were removed from the Western Michigan team for armed robbery and assault. One of these players possessed a documented history of sexual assault dating back to when he was 13 years old. Fleck said the NCAA does not permit background checks, and the offending player’s late walk-on to the team made it hard to interview him properly.
Unlike Claeys, however, Fleck acted “very quickly,” suspending both players at 1 a.m. and expelling them soon after. In spite of this incident, many are hopeful Fleck will value justice over the sheltering of his players, but time will tell if he will be able to “change a culture” he promised to change.