Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck has made the Broncos nationally relevant in his fourth season and soon will have bigger programs vying for his services.
P.J. Fleck stands before a backdrop that’s both promoting a local steakhouse and features his signature Row the Boat motto. He is wearing a suit, tie and unmistakable confidence. It’s his weekly press conference, where he’s expected to recap his team’s latest victory and preview the upcoming matchup with Akron.
And he’ll do both of those things. Just not off the top.
Fleck thanked the media for their continued coverage of his football team. He thanked the fans for cheering during the last game, and encouraged the students to continue wearing their school gear around campus. He wanted alumni to know how much it meant to him that they returned for homecoming. Then he pleaded for them to return more than once a year.
For roughly one minute and five seconds, Fleck humbly asked for more attention – but not for himself. He’s the proud head coach of the 20th-ranked college football team in the country. His Western Michigan Broncos are 7-0. They were the last team in the country to commit a turnover, finally doing so in Saturday’s 41-0 romp over Akron. Wide receiver Corey Davis caught two more touchdowns in that that victory and is a legitimate first-round NFL talent. Fleck is one of, if not the hottest coaching name in college football right now.
And yet, he’s just hoping people will come out to Waldo Stadium and watch what he has made special.
Such is life when coaching at an FBS program in Kalamazoo. But for a guy everyone believes has one foot out the door, the 35-year-old Fleck seems firmly entrenched. Kalamazoo is where he got his first head coaching job and completely turned a program around in less than four years. It’s where he suffered through a 1-11 campaign in his first season, met his now-wife shortly after, won eight games each of the next two years and led Western Michigan to its first-ever national ranking.
The Broncos’ website is giving away a caricature of Fleck sitting in a miniature boat holding miniature oars and wearing a headset to all fans who purchase a three-game ticket package. That’s because Fleck has become more than a coach with a somewhat goofy saying that doesn’t even apply to football.
Fleck is the clear face and voice of a Western Michigan program that had no identity when he arrived. And when a coach is that special, that determined and that successful in Kalamazoo, or at any other smaller school, fledgling tradition-rich programs will dangle money, attention and career advancement in front of him.
Fleck is no different. And let’s make one thing perfectly clear – Fleck eventually will leave Kalamazoo. He means everything he says about the program, the community and his love for both. He’ll leave on good terms and might even return from time to time.
But soon, Fleck won’t be standing at a podium for a press conference thanking the media for anything. The fans he desperately hopes keep coming to Waldo Stadium to support Western Michigan will be coming out in droves and packing an opinion about his every coaching move. Alumni will be paying his salary that will more than double, and if he’s lucky they won’t try to take it away from him at the first sign of adversity.
Fleck might be loved just as much at his new destination as he is right now in Kalamazoo. Given his success, that seems the likeliest of scenarios. And he’ll appreciate it just as much.
He just won’t have to beg for the attention anymore.