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On UCLA interest, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck says he loves being at Minnesota

Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck turned a question about his connection to the UCLA head coaching search back to Minnesota on Wednesday.

“I just love being at Minnesota,” Fleck said in a news conference to kick off spring practices. “I don’t know if there is much to say after that. I just love being here.”

Fleck, who is entering Year 8 at the U, went back to a line he often uses about a desire for Minnesota to have “cultural sustainability” for success and how college football is changing.

“We’ve built a life here, not just make a living in being a football coach,” Fleck continued. “We are embedded in the community. We love this place. We love the city. We love the university. It’s been really good to us.”

Fleck’s name was mentioned almost immediately when UCLA head coach Chip Kelly left the Bruins on Feb. 9 to become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator.

Fleck was considered a top candidate at UCLA, which enters the Big Ten Conference next season. ESPN said more than 10 coaches were interviewed for the position.

Gophers AD Mark Coyle had conversations with Fleck and the U’s Board of Regents on that Friday and Saturday, Feb. 10. Fleck posted on social media that Saturday evening.

“Honored to the Head Football Coach at Minnesota!! Ready for an ELITE 2024 season,” Fleck wrote. “Now, back to our wedding anniversary trip!!”

Fleck, 43, has a 50-34 record at Minnesota, including 6-7 in 2023.

Last week, the U’s board of regents approved a contract amendment for Fleck that includes $5.7 million in annual retention bonuses over the next six years of his deal.

Fleck’s annual salary remains at $6 million per year, and he will now receive a $700,000 bonus on Dec. 31, 2024. That bonus goes up $100,000 each year to reach $1.2 million in the final year of his contract (2029).

RELATED: Check out details of Fleck’s new bonus and buyout structure.

Fleck’s buyout, if he were to leave for another coaching job or move into broadcasting, increases to $7 million from $5 million for 2024, per the amendment.

The Gophers will play UCLA in the Rose Bowl stadium in October 12. It’s their first visit to Pasadena, Calif., since winning the Rose Bowl game after the 1961 season.

“I told you we would go to the Rose Bowl, guys,” Fleck joked. “Thought I was lying.”

Why no spring game?

The Gophers decided to forgo a spring game in April, and Fleck shared what went into that decision.

“A lot of things,” he said. “Take your pick.”

First off, Fleck mentioned how weather and the pandemic have interrupted the scheduled spring game every year since 2017.

“That was one factor,” he said. “(No.) 2, I want to keep things (private) inside the best I can possibly keep things inside.”

Fleck and the Gophers don’t want to share with upcoming opponents what the U might look like with new transfer quarterback Max Brosmer and new defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman.

Daniel House of Gophers Guru said a handful of other Power Five programs are also not having spring games this year, including Northwestern, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.

Briefly

The Gophers will begin the first of 15 spring practices on Thursday. Saturday’s practice is open to members of the Gophers’ name, image and likeness (NIL) collective, Dinkytown Athletes. It will now start at noon at Athletes Village. Fleck also mentioned leaning into more opportunities for the collective as a reason why they are scratching the spring game this year…. Hetherman, who was the linebackers coach at Rutgers the past two seasons, was asked about his new life in Minnesota. “It’s been excellent so far, everyone has been nice — we haven’t given up a touchdown or a first down yet,” he joked. … Backup punter Ryan Shamburger said Wednesday he is entering the NCAA transfer portal.

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