In P.J. Fleck’s first year at Western Michigan, the Broncos went 1-11. Needless to say, it was a long, rough season.
Last year, however, they went 8-5 and made a bowl game. This year, they’re 7-5 and playing Middle Tennessee (7-5) in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 24.
What seeds were planted in 2013 that have sprung to life in 2014 and 2015?
“I think it’s just the seed of doing it the right way,” Fleck said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Greg Schiano taught me a very, very priceless lesson that we use in our culture every single day: Never sacrifice what you really want down the road for what you want right now. I think in an immediate, instant-gratification society, everybody wants to win right now. Well, when I took the job and I laid out my entire plan to our administration, we knew exactly what would happen Year One. Now, it could have been 0-12, 1-11, 2-10, 3-9 – whatever it was, we weren’t going to focus on the record; we were going to do our best to recruit the best student-athletes we possibly could to set our culture, win as many games as we possibly could but not really focus on winning games that year. You knew you were going to struggle. You had to teach the right lessons. You had to be able to sit the best player down if he didn’t do things the right way. You knew if you did that, you probably wouldn’t win many games. So we had to do that.
“And then in Year 2, we had 18 freshmen,” Fleck continued. “We had one of the best recruiting classes ever in the history of our conference, and we’re on our way to back-to-back to back No. 1 recruiting classes in our conference by a long shot. Out of those 18 freshmen, I think it was eight that became all-conference. Now we have 11 that are all conference this year. We only have nine seniors and a few juniors. We’ve got a very young team but we’re starting to gain experience and gain confidence and they’re incredible people, incredible men, and they’re really busting their butt and been developed within our program as student-athletes.”
Fleck, 35, got the Western Michigan job at 32. A lot of older coaches probably thought Fleck was in over his head. Then he won just one game – by one point – in his first season.
Is it possible that some of those older coaches took satisfaction in that?
“Well I think everybody at some point, when you’re kind of a boisterous coach, when you’re an energetic coach, you come in with a lot of passion and energy – and especially if you have rivals, you’re going to have people rooting against you – of course they want to see you fail,” Fleck said. “It makes them look better. But one thing about us, we don’t focus on anybody but ourselves. We don’t talk negatively or positively about any other program. It’s all about our program. We focus and direct all of our energy toward us, to be the most positive, inspirational and the best-developing program in America. We don’t care what conference we’re in. We don’t think labels. We don’t look at ourselves as mid-majors. We look at ourselves as us. We’re going to do it our way. And I think that as you continue to go through, you kind of go back on your core values. That’s what building something is all about. You’ve got to dig down first, and some people aren’t willing to do that. We dug down really deep and then we (laid) our foundation in Year 2, which was great, and Year 3 we’re actually starting to build this house and build this thing as we get going moving into the end of Year 3 and into Year 4.”