The University of Minnesota Board of Regents unanimously approved a contract extension signed by football head coach P.J. Fleck in a rather empty special board meeting Thursday.
The deal, signed by Fleck last week, extends his contract through the 2026 season and will increase his base salary to $4.6 million, up from its current $3.6 million. Regents also agreed to extend contracts for offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.
“We are a world class institution, or as coach Fleck would say, we are elite,” President Joan Gabel said at the meeting. “We need to act that way and ultimately, compensate that way.”
Coming off one of the biggest wins in school history and with a 9-0 record for the first time since 1904, the deal looks to keep Fleck with the University long term. Prior to the signing, speculation had linked Fleck to high-profile jobs such as Florida State, which fired head coach Willie Taggart last week.
“The most important thing we can do as regents is give the coach reasons to stay to have continuity in our coaching ranks so we can continue to develop these teams,” Board Chair Ken Powell said at the meeting. “This deal is a major step in that direction.”
Citing previous extensions offered to Fleck, one after his first season where the team went 5-7, Athletic Director Mark Coyle said the deal further emphasizes how committed the University has been to the 38-year-old coach, even before the success of this season.
“P.J. understands the commitment we have to him,” Coyle said, adding that 65 percent of the seven-year deal is guaranteed. “We feel like we were very aggressive in the buyout in terms of providing protection to the institution.”
The deal's buyout is $10 million until the end of 2020 and then drops to $4.5 million for 2021, a steeper price than Flecks current buyout should another school look to lure the coach away.
Fleck was not at the meeting. Neither were most of the regents, as seven of them and Gabel joined on the phone.
Vice Chair Steve Sviggum, who led the meeting, praised Fleck for more than just the success of the team on the field, but for the values he instills in the players and his impact in the community and the classroom.
The football program has its highest GPA on record, Coyle said, and has held diaper and turkey drives in the community. He also said the success of the program has led to more exposure for the University nationally.
Sviggum shared a panoramic photograph taken from atop TCF Bank Stadium after last Saturday’s 31-26 victory over Penn State with his fellow regents.
“These are our students,” Sviggum said, pointing to the near-invisible field. “Who are enjoying the type of atmosphere that I think they should be able to enjoy and that they have a right to enjoy.”
It was more than just students though, as it seemed the whole stadium emptied onto the field. Regent Michael Hsu and Regent Mike Kenyanya said they both took part in the celebration.
“If you look really closely at the picture, you’ll see I’m trying to stop Mike [Kenyanya] from taking the goalpost down,” Hsu joked.