Ex-Rutgers coach PJ Fleck pushes back on ‘baseless’ allegations of toxic culture at Minnesota

Published Jul. 27, 2023, 2:21 p.m.
By Brian Fonseca | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck on Thursday pushed back on the serious allegations of a toxic and intimidating culture within his program that were made by former players and staff in a report from A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports.
Fleck, who served as an assistant at Rutgers from 2010-11, told ESPN that the allegations were “baseless” and that the claims in the Wednesday report from Front Office Sports have “been looked into multiple times since 2017,” with no wrongdoing found.
Fleck claimed to ESPN that the claims stem from a former Minnesota faculty member who he said “clearly has a personal vendetta against myself and our football program.” He added that he believes the majority of players who spoke to the former faculty member have been dismissed or removed from the program.
“Our program culture is proven to work on and off the field, and it’s always done in a first-class manner,” Fleck told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg. “There are tons of testimonials from past, current and future Gophers.”
The former players and staff members, who spoke to Perez under conditions of anonymity for fear of retaliation, levied multiple accusations. Among them: players reported feeling like they were in a “cult,” having to clap each time Fleck entered the locker room and abide by a system called the “Fleck Bank.”
The “Fleck Bank” allowed players to earn “coins” that could be used to get away with positive drug tests and other violations.
Fleck claimed that “no currency (was) ever exchanged” because “there was no coins that ever existed.
“It was an analogy simply to explain investment for life, a life lesson of investment, simply that,” Fleck said. “No one ever got out of any type of punishment for that.”
In a statement to FOS, Minnesota insisted the university’s drug policy is applied equitably throughout the school. But a pair of other players told FOS that some players got away with positive tests.
An employee of the athletic department also accused Fleck, who is in his seventh season at Minnesota, of imposing difficult workouts as punishment. Students reported extended bear crawls and burpees until they “threw up.”
In his podium appearance at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday, Fleck claimed that “we do not use physical activity to discipline our players at the University of Minnesota” and they “have never done that.”
“Our players do things like wake up early and clean the weight room. And whatever you did, you watch a video on that. If you were late to class, you watch a video on tardiness. You then write your professor a letter,” Fleck said. “Those are the disciplines we actually have within our program.”
The allegations don’t end there. Fleck was accused of rushing players back from injuries.
“Those [athletic] trainers did a lot of things because Fleck forced their hand in that medical room,” one player told FOS. “Whether that would be getting guys back earlier than they should have been or minimizing the seriousness of some pretty horrendous injuries, a lot of the trainers [treating players under Fleck] did a lot of things that they maybe shouldn’t have done — even if they didn’t agree with it — because of Fleck.”
Fleck strongly defended his program to ESPN.
“You are who you are, and you’re running a very, very open, transparent program,” Fleck said. “Our university knows that, our athletic department, our athletic director know that, and they experience it every single day.”
One of Fleck’s players defended the program strongly.
“Everything that was said in that article is complete nonsense,” seventh-year senior wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell told SiriusXM.
This isn’t the first time Fleck has been accused of running a toxic culture at Minnesota. According to David Cobb of CBS Sports:
In 2018, CBS Sports obtained a memorandum in which a former employee warned the Minnesota Board of regents of a toxic culture within the program. The person said if “issues … continue to go unaddressed and things do not change, the health and welfare of student-athletes at the University of Minnesota are in jeopardy.”
The NCAA has not made a statement regarding these allegations.
Fleck worked under Greg Schiano as a receivers coach during Schiano’s first stint at Rutgers, and followed Schiano to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where Fleck served as a wide receivers coach for one year before accepting the head coaching role at Western Michigan.
Fleck spent four seasons at Western Michigan, turning it from a one-win team into a 13-1 team in 2016. He was hired in 2017 by Minnesota and has led it to a 44-27 record and four bowl wins.
Fleck had helped Schiano build Rutgers’ most highly-regarded recruiting class of all-time, which included St. Peter’s Prep five-star running back Savon Huggins, his four-star offensive lineman Keith Lumpkin and Long Branch speedster Miles Shuler.

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