P.J. Fleck’s name has surfaced as a candidate in coaching vacancies for a second time this offseason.
On Saturday, Football Scoop’s sources had the Parker Executive Search firm identify Fleck, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and Southern Methodist head coach Sonny Dykes as “being vetted for the Tennessee job.”
The Volunteers fired head coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine assistant coaches and staff members last week for alleged recruiting violations, which could result in serious punishment from the NCAA. There is no indication that Fleck would be willing to explore what’s expected to be a deeper rebuilding job in the Southeastern Conference.
In late December, NFL Media reported at least one NFL team was interested in Fleck for its coaching vacancy. It’s unclear which team that was or whether it progressed.
These connections became a regular occurrence in the past few years. In early November 2019, Fleck was linked to Florida State’s vacancy, but that was nipped when he signed a new seven-year contract later that week. It included a $10 million buyout in 2020, but that figure dropped to $4.5 million this year.
Another annual offseason occurrence has been at least one Minnesota assistant coach leaving the staff for another gig. That hasn’t happened this offseason, but the coaching carousel is still turning.
The U’s staff has had its most turnover at defensive line and at both cornerback and safety.
A dozen newcomers
Minnesota had 12 new players (six transfers and six freshmen) join the program when the semester started last week.
The transfers were: Nyles Pinckney, Dylan Wright, Karter Shaw, Jack Gibbens, Val Martin and Daniel Sparks. The freshmen were: Deven Eastern, Justin Walley, Brady Boyd, Lemeke Brockington, Devon Eastern and Dylan McGill.
The number of early enrollees by class over Fleck’s tenure has both grown and fluctuated: two came in 2017, seven in 2018, 14 in 2019 and eight in 2020.
St-Juste to Senior Bowl
Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste accepted an invitation Friday to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 in Mobile, Ala.
St-Juste, who turned pro Dec. 20 after the Wisconsin loss, had one year of eligibility remaining at Minnesota. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Canadian’s inclusion is more important this year, with the NFL’s scouting combine not having in-person workouts this spring due to COVID-19.
The lack of a combine will put more emphasis for aspiring pros — including junior receiver Rashod Bateman — to show out during pro days on college campus this spring.
St-Juste is the 43rd Gopher to be invited to the combine, following Carter Coughlin and Kamal Martin last year.
Former Gophers linebacker Thomas Barber was named linebackers coach at Division III Augsburg on Friday. The Plymouth native had 274 career tackles with the Gophers, including a team high 115 in 2017.
Ex-Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson signed with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes on Friday. He was in training camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2018 and minicamps with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals in 2017.
Maple Grove’s 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior defensive lineman Nate Becker committed to the U as a preferred walk-on Sunday. His older brother, Rusty, transferred from Minnesota State Community and Technical College to California, where the D-lineman and special teams player had 24 tackles in 26 games at the Pacific-12 Conference school through the 2018 season.