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Fleck, Harbaugh finally make Big Ten media days interesting

P.J. Fleck and Jim Harbaugh book-ended the second day of Big Ten media days. They also managed to steal the show while they were at it.

Day one of the Big Ten media days provided little in the way of drama or intrigue. Considering what was to follow on day two, perhaps that was a good thing.

Many wondered what P.J. Fleck, the human ball of energy, would bring to the table. Fewer wondered just how quirky Jim Harbaugh would be. Let’s just say both lived up to the billing and made for an early morning of intrigue.

Fleck spoke a mile-a-minute and delivered his brand of culture, but he also gave us some good working insight to his team. That includes a look at whom he sees representing the personality of his first team.

That name is a familiar one — running back Rodney Smith.

“When you look at who we brought, I’m very proud of these three student-athletes,” Fleck said. “Rodney Smith you all know is our running back. He’s kind of the personality of our football team. Huge smile, ton of energy, very charismatic. I think you’ll enjoy spending time with him. By the way, he’s a pretty phenomenal running back as well.”

It’s a good place to start for a team, as Smith was fourth in the Big Ten in rushing with 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns last season alone. Fleck seems to know he needs to build from the run game up on offense, and having Smith certainly helps matters.

The head coach also gave us a good idea on how he will go about getting people interested in Gophers football again — reality television.

That’s because Fleck will be the start of an upcoming ESPN 4-part mini-series documenting his first year at the helm of the Gophers program.

“I think it’s every head coach’s job and responsibility to bring attention to their institution,” said Fleck.

“That’s not self-promoting, but I think every head football coach in America is self-promoting at some point. We’re all selling ourselves and showing what we’re like and recruiting our cultures and developing our cultures. You’re the front porch of the institution.

You’re not the most important thing on campus, but you’re the front porch of nationally what everybody sees.”

Fleck just hopes the attention and show is less like The Kardashians and more about Minnesota Gophers football. Considering the sales job he did at media days, that shouldn’t be a problem.

As for Harbaugh, it all started with his walk up to the podium in full sideline gear.

It ended with Harbaugh managing to work in mentions of orange construction cones on the side of the road, 600-year serving stadiums and the old sleep deprivation patterns of medical residents and pilots.

As for the orange cones reference, that was all about Rashan Gary and the hype surrounding him coming out of high school and in to his second year at Michigan.

He’s had a lot of hype,” said Harbaugh. “He’s had a lot of adulation. And there’s some people that that’s what they live for. They live for approval of others and to be recognized as a hyped-up player.

“And then there’s other people that they see that hype or that adulation and they go by it like it’s an orange cone on the side of the road. There’s some people that are just aspiring for greater things than just the adulation of somebody. And I think Rashan is that type of guy. You’d really like him. He really doesn’t care too much about that.”

One of the biggest topics of media days has been that of the changes to fall camp. Gone are two-a-days and in place is an expanded camp schedule of five weeks for the 2017 season.

Apparently one of Harbaugh’s biggest concerns has been the sleep deprivation of his players…or something like that.

“It (doing away with two-a-day practices) just makes all the sense in the world,” said Harbaugh. “There’s really nobody having three-a-days anymore or two-a-days anymore.

“Residents in hospitals don’t do sleep deprivation anymore. Pilots have to sleep ten hours, I think, before each flight. It’s just everybody is doing it that way. Even the military doesn’t have sleep deprivation and three-a-days, et cetera. So I’m all for it.”

Yep, football players undergo the same strains as life-saving doctors and those in charge of keeping planes from dropping out of the sky.

Hyperbole aside, Harbaugh is in the vast majority of coaches who are glad to see two-a-days banned.

Today’s college athlete is working out year-round and hardly out of game shape, which was the point of two-a-days to begin with.

No doubt the changes will be good for the athletes involved.

No doubt Fleck and Harbaugh stole the show on day two of Big Ten media days so far.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball


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