PHOENIX — The Gophers have had 12 players enter the NCAA transfer portal during this season, and there might be a few more after Minnesota plays West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Minnesota’s coaches have held most of their year-end meetings with players, and Fleck said there is an assumption everybody still on the team will return for 2022. “But there will probably be one or two surprises,” he added.
During the meetings, coaches will have direct conversations with players about where they stand on the depth chart and chances of seeing the field the following season but never pull scholarships. Hearing long odds of seeing the field could factor into players’ decisions to depart.
For instance, when starting quarterback Tanner Morgan said after the Wisconsin win on Nov. 27 that he was coming back for a sixth season in 2022, backups Zack Annexstad and Jacob Clark soon said they were headed into the portal.
Cornerback Coney Durr said he’s most proud of his “perseverance” to stick it out after a knee injury and coaching change to stay at Minnesota for six seasons.
“With … the (transfer) portal and stuff like that, man, it’s really important that a lot of guys just trust the process,” Durr said. “Stuff is gonna to be hard. You can’t run from hard. Embrace that and it’s going to make you into the person you are going to be.”
The Gophers have 20 players in the 2022 recruiting class, including incoming cornerbacks Shannon “Beanie” Bishop (Western Kentucky) and Ryan Stapp (Abilene Christian).
Fleck estimated Minnesota could bring in three more players during this cycle, with fall-sport athletes needing to notify schools of their departure before May 1.
“There is going to be another wave of the portal come after the bowl games and then after spring ball,” Fleck said. “You are constantly recruiting, even transfers, who can come in at the end of May.”
Defensive line is one likely spot the U could add reinforcements and players with multiple years of eligibility is often sought in newcomers. Bishop and Stapp have two years left.
Half of the 12 departures from Minnesota have found new destinations: defensive end MJ Anderson (Iowa State), receiver Brady Boyd (Texas Tech), running back Cam Wiley (Akron), tight end Austin Henderson (Liberty) and defensive end Rashod Cheney and linebacker DJ Gordon (both South Florida).
Six don’t yet have new schools: Annexstand and Clark, offensive linemen Curtis Dunlap and Saia Mapakaitolo, receiver Dylan Hillard-McGill and kicker Michael Lantz. Lantz was last on the team in 2020, but made his announcement to transfer earlier this month.
As well as players transferring, Gophers’ assistant coaches could be on the move as well.
Minnesota has already had one change — offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. not retained after two seasons and Kirk Ciarrocca coming back to Dinkytown. They have also extended the contract of defensive coordinator Joe Rossi through the 2023 season and he received a $137,000 raise.
Fleck’s contract extension in October included $350,000 more for assistant coaches salary pool. Factoring in Rossi and Ciarrocca, there is roughly $250,000 remaining for the eight other on-field assistants. There is an understanding this money will be spread out to them.
Running backs coach and assistant head coach Kenni Burns, co receivers coach Matt Simon, special teams coordinator/rush ends coach Rob Wenger, tight ends coach Clay Patterson and cornerbacks coach Paul Haynes have their contracts expiring in January.
Run game coordinator/offensive line coach Brian Callahan, co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Joe Harsimiak and defensive line coach Chad Wilt are under contract for 2022.
The Gophers had two true freshman use their redshirts in 2021 — cornerback Justin Walley and running back Mar’Keise Irving. The U had 13 remaining members of the 2021 class maintain four years of eligibility into 2022.
Minnesota had eight players from the 2020 class use their redshirts this season — running back Ky Thomas, receiver Daniel Jackson, safety Michael Dixon, defensive end Danny Striggow, cornerback Jalen Glaze, punter Mark Crawford and linebackers Lucas Finnessy and Jaquondis Burns.
The Gophers had six players in the 2020 class play in fewer than four games and keep their redshirts — linebacker Cody Lindenberg, defensive back Miles Fleming, defensive ends Jalen Logan-Redding and Jah Joyner, receiver Doug Emilien and offensive lineman Aireontae Ersery. The U had five returning players in the 2020 class not participate in any games in 2021.