MORGANTOWN, W.Va — West Virginia head coach Neal Brown and Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck have never coached on the same staff.
In fact, the two have never coached in the same conference at the same time. But there is a mutual respect between them.
That was evident when the two head coaches spoke Sunday evening after it was announced their teams would be squaring off against one another in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 28.
Despite never having faced off, the two coaches know what the other has accomplished.
“What P.J.’s done, not only in Minnesota, but at Western Michigan is special,” Brown said. “And if you look at this team, [I’ve] seen them a little bit on crossover watching them, because of the respect that I have for him.”
There’s a link between Brown and Fleck: Kirk Ciarrocca. He’s WVU’s senior offensive analyst, a position he has held since the spring.
“We’ve been fortunate to have him,” Brown said. “He’s been able to find unique ways to run the football at every stop.”
Ciarrocca was the offensive coordinator at Delaware in 2005, which was Brown’s lone season with that program.
Ciarrocca and Fleck, meanwhile, shared the same sideline at Rutgers in 2010. Fleck was the wide receiver’s coach and Ciarrocca was co-offensive coordinator.
Once Fleck became the head coach at Western Michigan in 2013, he hired Ciarrocca to be his offensive coordinator. The two went to Minnesota together in 2017, as well, before Ciarrocca left for Penn State in 2020.
Ciarrocca is familiar with both sidelines, but also could be switching teams in the near future. According to a report from Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, Fleck and Ciarrocca could be close to reuniting at Minnesota:
Fleck and Minnesota parted ways with former offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. at the end of the regular season.
“I just felt like we needed a change on offense,” Fleck said when asked about the open position Sunday.
Minnesota was in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in terms of points per game (26.1). However, the Golden Gophers were the third-best rushing team in their conference during the regular season, averaging 193.8 yards per game on the ground, despite dealing with multiple season-ending injuries on offense.
Fleck said Sunday that Minnesota has not yet hired a new offensive coordinator. Brown called Ciarrocca’s involvement in the search “a unique situation.”
“We’re going to kind of work through that,” Brown said. “This is maybe a first in my career. We’re going to work through that.”
The Minnesota StarTribune is also reporting that Ciarrocca is a top target to fill the open position on Fleck’s staff. The timeline for a potential move could be a short one.
“We’ll figure it out in the next day or so,” Brown said.
Ciarrocca, 56, has been coaching at the collegiate level since 1990. West Virginia is his 11th different stop. If he does return to Minnesota, it would be the third time in his career that Ciarrocca has returned to a school he’d coached at previously.