Editors note; When Minnesota released the new uniforms yesterday it set a firestorm off in the midwest among College Football fans. And TGS was effected as well. We decided to move the argument from out of our slack channels to our website, with Alex Gookin and Jason Mitchell discussing their takes. I have included links to their Twitter accounts so you can tell them how wrong their takes are.
The college football news cycle has come to a screeching halt after the circus that is National Signing Day, but every once in a while we get a tiny, inconsequential nugget of news that gets people talking.
That’s what happened at TGS Headquarters on February 20th, as Minnesota P.J. Fleck announced his team’s new uniforms this upcoming season in a tweet with more exclamation marks than a tweet from a high school freshman excited about a promposal.
— P.J. Fleck (@Coach_Fleck) February 20, 2018
First of all, I like the uniforms. They look clean, nothing offensive about them. Additionally, I like P.J. Fleck. Is he over-the-top? Yes. Is he corny? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, he’s a good coach and is obviously doing something right with the attention he’s getting from recruits and the national media.
But Minnesota just made a potentially embarrassing mistake by putting Fleck’s trademark “Row The Boat” tagline as a prominent part of the uniform.
Again, this has nothing to do with Fleck—in fact, I’d argue he’s brilliant for getting Minnesota to buy in so much that they’d include an oar on the helmets with “ROW” right on the facemask. With this move, Minnesota put Fleck’s brand ahead of its own. Maybe I’m biased as an Iowa State fan—both Matt Campbell (football) and Steve Prohm (basketball) preach how important it is to build a program for the players and by the players. They’re not the first to do it, but both have made a point to bring former players back to be the focal point of the program—not the coaches themselves.
Instead, Minnesota went all-in on Fleck in a move that is bound to backfire on them at some point. You see, “Row The Boat” isn’t just a silly catch-phrase, it’s a trademarked mantra, owned by Fleck’s agent’s media company. What does that mean for Minnesota? Well, it means they better hope Fleck is a success at Minnesota and doesn’t want to leave. It means that 20 years down the line, there might be some awkward conversations between young Minnesota fans inquiring about the uniforms of 2018.
“Dad, what was on Minnesota’s helmets?”
“That’s an oar, son.”
“But aren’t they the Gophers?”
“Well yes, but they had a coach who liked to say, ‘row the boat.’”
“Oh, was he a famous Minnesota player?”
“Well, no but he was a really good hire at the time.”
“Was he successful?”
“Well, he went 5-7 his first year—“
“And they let him change the jerseys???”
“*sigh* He told us it was Year Zero.”
Let me begin with this: Even as a Nebraska fan, I’m a P.J. Fleck guy. I think he’s great college football because Fleck is a human distillation of the sport. He can only exist within the game of college football. I get that he’s not for everyone, but I happen to like his shtick. Based on recruiting rankings, so do recruits. Because of this, I’m absolutely 100% Row The Boat. Yes, it’s Fleck’s trademark. But put it on everything, Minnesota. Put oars on your helmets. Plaster the saying all over your facilities.
I can understand why some would be skeptical of a school using a coach’s personal “brand” as a part of the school’s uniforms. After all, if the coach leaves, the school is up a creek without a paddle (no pun intended). But what’s the alternative? Continue to get pasted in recruiting year after year despite being a solid bowl team? Cause that’s what Minnesota has been. If they have a chance to hire one of the hottest young coaches and incorporate his trademark saying into their uniforms with the hopes that it’ll pay off in recruiting, they have to do it. There’s really no downside for them. At worst, Fleck doesn’t work out. Either he leaves for a better job (which means that he was successful) or he gets fired (unlikely, but no one is going to fault them for hiring Fleck coming off of his stint at Western Michigan.
To me the bottom line is this: You’re Minnesota, and you don’t have a ton of stuff going for you besides P.J. Fleck at this point. No one cares about you nationally, so get the PR in while you can. Every coach leverages his own personal brand to get ahead in the college football coaching carousel. That’s part of the deal. I can’t fault a school for taking their coach’s brand and running with it in the hopes that it helps them in some small way. If Fleck’s coaching and recruiting history are any indication, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will be better off for fully embracing the mantra of Row The Boat.