His Gophers football team finished 9-4 last year, beat Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Ax and won a bowl game, yet coach PJ Fleck had a blunt assessment of his work.
“I failed as a coach last year. I did,” Fleck said Tuesday, the opening day of Gophers spring practice.
Fleck’s main issue with his coaching was Minnesota’s offense. Though the Gophers did some good things, such as rushing for 198 yards per game and ranking third nationally with an average time of possession of 35 minutes, 25 seconds, their passing game was lacking, producing only 12 touchdowns and 162 yards per game, which ranked 118th nationally.
“I did not do well enough, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Fleck said. “We were too inconsistent. We had way too many three-and-outs. It just didn’t flow together.”
Fleck’s big offseason change was firing offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. and replacing him with Kirk Ciarrocca, who’ll be back directing the Gophers offense after running it from 2017 through the record-setting 2019 regular season. Ciarrocca’s first task is to help quarterback Tanner Morgan, who’ll be a sixth-year senior, find the form the allowed him to pass for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2019.
Fleck said Ciarrocca returns with an expanded base of offensive knowledge following one-year stints as Penn State’s offensive coordinator and as an offensive analyst at West Virginia. Ciarrocca will put it to use during the 15 spring sessions.
“This is the time to be able to mold that into what we are going to be able to become,” Fleck said. “I love Kirk’s organizational skills. I love the relationship he has with the offensive players.”
Backs on the mend
Mohamed Ibrahim, the Big Ten Running Back of the Year in 2020, continues to progress as he recovers from a torn left Achilles’ tendon in the 2021 season opener against Ohio State.
Fleck said Ibrahim would take part in Tuesday’s spring practice opener and again on Thursday but not take contact. Beginning Friday through May 1, Ibrahim will be observing the Islamic holiday of Ramadan in which he’ll fast from sunup to sundown each day. Fleck said Ibrahim will work out on his own before dawn.
“Mo looks great, feels great,” Fleck said. “… He’s worked incredibly hard in this offseason. There are highs and lows and days you feel great and days you don’t.
Trey Potts was lost for the season on Oct. 2 at Purdue because of an undisclosed injury that caused him to be hospitalized for six days. Fleck said Potts is working out with the team but has not been cleared for contact. “Anything we do with Trey will be from the medical team and our trainers,” Fleck said. “He is doing a wonderful job, and it’s good to have him back out there.”
- Former Gophers linebacker Thomas Barber, a two-time All-Big Ten honoree, will join the Minnesota program as a graduate assistant, Fleck announced. Barber spent the 2021 season as Augsburg’s linebackers coach.
- The Gophers will hold two practices that will be open to the public: 4 pm April 5 and 11 am April 16. The spring game is 1 pm, April 30 at Huntington Bank Stadium.