Gophers coach P.J. Fleck: 'We needed a new direction' on offense

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Dec. 6—Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck kept it brief on two topics Sunday: why he moved on from offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., last week and the program's plans to bring back Kirk Ciarrocca.

"I just felt like we needed a change on offense," Fleck said during the Guaranteed Rate Bowl news conference Sunday. "Mike is a tremendous person and a wonderful football coach. I just felt like we needed a new direction in the leadership at that position, and we are working our way toward making a hire here very shortly."

After serving as the Gophers' offensive coordinator from 2017-19, Ciarrocca has been an offensive analyst this season at West Virginia, which is Minnesota's bowl opponent on Dec. 28 at Chase Field in Phoenix.

Mountaineers coach Neal Brown, who is close with Ciarrocca, called it a unique situation. "We are going to kind of work through that; this is maybe a first in my career," Brown said. "... We will figure it out in the next day or so."

The Gophers might make an announcement on their plans at offensive coordinator as soon as Monday.

"We made a decision (on offensive coordinator for the bowl game) but I will keep that internal right now as we continue to go forward," Fleck said. "Our staff knows what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. I will keep that internal as of right now. I really like our plan."

Fleck and Brown know of each other because of Ciarrocca, who recruited Brown as a player and had him on staff as a receivers coach at Delaware. Fleck was a receivers coach under Ciarroccca when Ciarrocca was Rutgers' offensive coordinator in 2010.

"He has been a mentor and a friend really throughout my coaching career, and we visit a lot over the years," Brown said. "Offensively our philosophies are very similar. He has been a great help here, not only for myself but for really our entire staff. He's helped our offensive staff grow, and he's had great insight for our defensive staff. He can't coach on the field, but our players. ... I think it's been a fun experience for him. ... We've been fortunate to have him."

Ciarrocca, 56, was the U's offensive coordinator in 2019, when they were 21st in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 34 points per game in an 11-2 season.

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