Lofty expectations came with the hire of P.J Fleck, head coach of the Western Michigan football team.
Fleck, 32, is the youngest head coach in college football and Sports Illustrated named Fleck the top head coaching hire of the 2013 off-season. With his passionate and boisterous attitude, Fleck seemed to always find himself in the news. His claims to change the tradition at WMU not only shook up Kalamazoo, but caught the attention of the nation.
Fleck replaced Bill Cubit, who, in his tenure at WMU, posted a solid 51-47 record, including three bowl appearances. Pressure to win right away mounted and the Bronco faithful expected big things from Fleck and this year’s WMU football team.
Things took a turn for the worse, though, particularly after the Broncos lost to Nicholls, Division 1-AA (FCS) school, in the home opener. In the following weeks, the Broncos were thumped by Iowa, 59-3, and then embarrassed on Homecoming as they lost to Buffalo 33-0. Losses like these were a microcosm of the Broncos’ 1-11 season, their worst season since 2004.
After his first season as a head coach, Fleck finds himself on the hot seat, but he is still keeping things in perspective.
“I don’t care what our record is,”, Fleck said in the press conference following WMU’s season finale at Northern Illinois on Nov. 26. “In this day and age and in this world, everyone worries about the wins and losses and that’s what we do. We get hired to get fired, that’s what coaches do. It’s being around a group of men that continue to fight. “
With a schedule that included Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa, Northern Illinois and Ball State, most didn’t believe that WMU would be good enough to win the conference, let alone make a bowl game. However, most did not expect the debacle that was the 2013 season. Fleck said he understands the pressure to win and he takes full responsibility.
“The 1-11 record falls completely on me,” Fleck said . “It’s 100 percent on me. I didn’t prepare them enough, but they will continue to grow the next few years.”
It will be interesting to see how this Bronco team moves on from this season. Even more interesting will be how Fleck’s experiences, combined with next year’s pressure to succeed, will change his approach to coaching and how he deals with the media.
The Broncos have bounced back from bad seasons before. WMU went 1-10 in 2004 in Gary Darnell’s last season as coach. The Broncos went 7-4 the next year in Bill Cubit’s first season.
In 1975, WMU was 1-10 in Elliot Uzelac’s first season. He led the Broncos to a 7-4 mark in his second season.
With a highly ranked recruiting class, plus many returning key players, the potential for success is there, but comes with added pressure.
WMU could be a dominate mid-major program, but Fleck must learn and become a better coach from this past season.
Most importantly, he must win.