It happens every fall when a prominent college football coach is fired. Speculation immediately heats up, and lists of potential replacement candidates emerge on social media.
The first prominent coach to be fired during the 2022 season is Nebraska's Scott Frost, who was let go Sunday, roughly 14 hours after the Cornhuskers fell to 1-2 with a loss to Georgia Southern in Lincoln.
Frost's ouster wasn't unexpected. In his four-plus seasons at his alma mater, he had a 16-31 record and hadn't led Nebraska to a bowl game. The Huskers also had trouble finishing close games, going 5-22 in one-score contests under Frost.
By Sunday evening, lists of potential candidates were formed and tweeted. One came from Pete Thamel, a college football senior writer for ESPN. Thamel had P.J. Fleck among 15 names that he listed. The Gophers coach was the seventh name listed, following Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, Baylor coach Dave Aranda and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
Thamel, incidentally, has written extensively about Fleck, both at Western Michigan and with the Gophers.
When asked Monday if he had any interest in the Nebraska job, Fleck chuckled when informed of the tweet, then said: "No, our focus is 1-0 against Colorado. Just like the external [noise] with the players' expectations, the staff is the exact same way. The internal voice for us is focused on Colorado, period. There's a lot of things on the outside moving around. That's college football. The internal is what matters.''
This isn't the first time Fleck's named has been included in speculation about potential coaching candidates. Last September, after Southern California fired Clay Helton, Fleck's name was included in media reports among the potential successors. The Trojans job ended up going to Lincoln Riley, who left Oklahoma in a surprising move.
Even oddsmakers are getting in on the act. The website betonline.ag lists Campbell as the favorite to get the Nebraska job, followed by interim coach Mickey Joseph, Stoops, Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, Leonhard and Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson. Fleck is tied for ninth with Jackson State coach Deion Sanders.
Fleck last November signed a seven-year, $35 million contract that includes an average salary of $5 million and runs through 2028. It added two years to his previous deal and a buyout of $10 million that he would owe the university if he left for another job before Jan. 1. The buyout drops to $7 million for the 2023 season.
Under Fleck, the Gophers have a 37-23 record and a 21-22 Big Ten mark. They finished 11-2 and ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll in 2019. Last year, they were 9-4 with Fleck's third consecutive bowl victory. They are off to a 2-0 start this season entering Saturday's game against Colorado.
Fleck and his family recently put their vacation home on a lake in Mound on the market but are building a new home elsewhere in the Twin Cities area.
Fleck, who lost his first meeting with Frost but won the the last three, wished him the best going forward. The two verbally jousted at times. Frost shared his disdain for sloganeering during 2021 Big Ten Media Days. Fleck, who uses his "Row the Boat'' mantra extensively, responded after the Gophers' 30-23 win over the Huskers last October that the game was a triumph of "culture over skill.''
"I've got a lot of respect for Nebraska's program and respect for Scott,'' Fleck said Monday. "It's a part of our profession. It's unfortunate, but it's part of our profession. There's a saying that you get fired when you win, you get fired when you lose.''
Nebraska will pay Frost a $15 million buyout. Had the Huskers waited until Oct. 1 to fire Frost, the buyout would have been $7.5 million, but athletic director Trev Alberts wanted to make the move immediately.
"We owed it to the players to give them a different voice and perhaps a different vision," Alberts said. "We needed to do something.''
Michigan State kickoff time
The Gophers' Big Ten opener on Sept. 24 at No. 11 Michigan State will have a 2:30 p.m. kickoff and be televised by BTN, the conference announced.