After guiding Western Michigan to a 13-1 record this season, P.J. Fleck is leaving the school to become head coach of Minnesota's reeling football team.
The 36-year-old Fleck will receive a five-year deal, Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle announced Friday. The contract is worth $18.5 million, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"It is with mixed emotions that I announce my decision to leave Western Michigan University for the head football coaching job at the University of Minnesota," Fleck said in a statement to WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo, Mich. "Although I am grateful for and excited about this opportunity, this was a very difficult decision to make; one that involved much introspection and prayer. Heather and I love Kalamazoo and the Western Michigan University family of staff, students, alumni and fans. I simply feel called to take on this new challenge and to start a new chapter in my family's journey. I am proud of what we have accomplished together in Kalamazoo. I feel we have left WMU football in a much better place than when we arrived here. That was our mission. I'll always be your fan and friend."
The hiring of Fleck comes after Coyle fired head coach Tracy Claeys on Tuesday. The suspension of 10 players in connection with allegations of sexual assault, as well as the players' threat to boycott the Holiday Bowl, apparently played a major role in Claeys' firing.
Claeys became the Gophers' head coach during the 2015 season, when Jerry Kill resigned for health reasons. Minnesota went 11-8, including two bowl victories, under Claeys. The nine wins this season were the most for Minnesota since it won 10 in 2003.
Fleck and former LSU coach Les Miles both interviewed for Minnesota's vacant coaching job this week.
"P.J. is a proven winner and a strong leader. He's built a unique, positive culture that gets the best out of his students on the field and in the classroom," Coyle said in a statement. "His infectious energy and passion make him a terrific coach and dynamic recruiter. I am excited he will be leading the Gophers for years to come."
Fleck led Western Michigan to bowl games in each of the past three seasons. The Broncos were 13-0 in the 2016 regular season before losing in the Cotton Bowl to Wisconsin 24-16.
Fleck, 30-22 in four years at Western Michigan, was a star receiver at Northern Illinois and played briefly in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers. He has been an assistant coach at his alma mater, Ohio State, Rutgers and in 2012 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being hired at Western Michigan.
"It's an honor to coach at Minnesota and be part of the Big Ten conference," Fleck said in a statement released later by Minnesota. "I want to thank president Eric Kaler, athletic director Mark Coyle and the Board of Regents for this opportunity. I also want to thank Western Michigan, my players and the great fans and city of Kalamazoo for a wonderful four years.
"I look forward to meeting my new players and getting to know them as quickly as possible. I am excited to put together a staff and turn my efforts to recruiting, but also want Gopher fans to know that my wife, Heather, and I and our four children will be visible in the community and we are eager to connect with them."