Gophers fire defensive coordinator following embarrassing loss at Illinois

The Gophers’ defensive struggles have been an issue for several weeks, but after giving up 55 points and 646 yards in a loss on Saturday at Illinois, P.J. Fleck decided he had seen enough.

The Gophers announced Sunday night that Fleck had fired defensive coordinator Robb Smith and named defensive line coach Joe Rossi as the interim coordinator for the final three games of the season. The Gophers are 4-5 overall but 1-5 in the conference, putting them in a last-place tie with Nebraska in the Big Ten West.

“These decisions are always difficult, especially when they involve a close friend and colleague,” Fleck said in a statement. “I want to thank Robb, Amy and their family for all the time and energy they spent helping our program grow. Robb is an elite man and will always be a dear friend of mine.”

Rossi was hired by Fleck in January 2018 after working as a quality control assistant for Minnesota in 2017. The Pittsburgh native spent four years (2012-15) at Rutgers and was defensive coordinator at the school for two seasons. Rossi also was the defensive coordinator at Maine from 2009-11 and Thiel College from 2003-06.

The Gophers are giving up 43.2 points in Big Ten games, putting them ahead of only the 44.8 points that Illinois is surrendering. Nonetheless, the Gophers lost 55-31 to the Illini. Minnesota also is second-to-last in the conference to Illinois in total defense, giving up 507.7 yards per game.

The Gophers will play host to Purdue at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.