P.J. Fleck: The Best College Football Coach You've Never Heard Of

By Jon Opiela
Nov. 28, 2016

The college football regular season is finished.  After several grueling months of football, only two FBS teams remain undefeated.  The first is the Alabama Crimson Tide.  The Crimson Tide boast 16 National Championships in college football.  Lead by head coach Nick Saban, Alabama could compete with several NFL teams.  In ten seasons at Alabama, Saban has a career record of 112-18.

The other remaining team: the Western Michigan Broncos.  Head coach P.J. Fleck has lead the Broncos to a 12-0 season thus far.  Western Michigan captured the MAC West Division title with a 55-35 win over Toledo on Friday.  (Fun fact: Nick Saban also used to be the head coach at Toledo in 1990).

When Fleck took over at Western Michigan in 2013, the program was a wreck.  In his first season with the team he acquired, the Broncos went 1-11.  Since then, Fleck has taken the Broncos to 3 straight bowl games for the first time in program history.  In 2014 and 2015, Western Michigan went 8-5 with a 6-2 record in the MAC.  In 2014, Western Michigan finished 3rd in the West.  The teams season ended with a 38-24 loss to Air Force in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

The Broncos played an incredibly tough schedule in 2015.  The Broncos hosted #5 Michigan State in their season opener (Lost 37-24), went on the road to play #1 Ohio State (Lost 38-12), and finally upset #24 Toledo on the road (Won 35-30) in the last regular season game.  Last season, 4 teams in the MAC West finished 6-2 in conference for a share of first place.  Through tiebreakers, Western Michigan did not end up in the conference championship game.  The Broncos managed to get a 45-31 win over Middle Tennessee State in the Bahamas Bowl.

This season has been no different for Western Michigan.  For the first time in program history, the Broncos defeated 2 Big Ten teams in the same season.  The Broncos played both Northwestern and Illinois on the road.  Western Michigan also played North Carolina Central and Georgia Southern in their remaining non-conference games.  The Broncos blew out North Carolina Central 70-21 and also beat Georgia Southern 49-31.  This season, the Broncos are ranked in the AP Top 25 polls for the first time in school history.  Western Michigan takes on Ohio University in the MAC Championship.  The game will take place at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.

Western Michigan has one of the highest scoring offenses in college football.  In MAC play, the Broncos put up at least 37 points in every game.  Wide receiver Corey Davis is a huge part of the Western Michigan offense.  Davis became the all-time FBS receiving yards leader earlier this season.  On the season, Davis has caught 17 touchdowns, totaled 1283 receiving yards, and is averaging 106.3 yards per game.  Davis' 17 receiving touchdown lead the FBS.

Zach Terrell is also a huge key to the Bronco's offense.  Terrell leads the FBS in completion percentage while having completed 71.7% of his passes this season.  In 12 games and 318 passing attempts, Terrell has only thrown 1 interception all season.  

With the two biggest threats for Western Michigan playing their final two games of their careers, it will be interesting to see what P.J. Fleck has up his sleeve going forward.  So far at Western Michigan, Fleck has built the program around culture.  Fleck has built the program around one main philosophy: Row The Boat.  

In an interview in 2013, before his first game coaching at Western Michigan, P.J. Fleck explained the meaning behind Row The Boat.

“I had ‘Row the Boat’ a long time ago, but I never brought it out. It’s very simple when you break it down. There are three parts to rowing the boat. There is the oar, which is the energy behind rowing the boat. There is boat, which is the actual sacrifice, either our team or the administration or the boosters or the audience or whoever is willing to sacrifice for this program. There is also the compass. Every single person that comes in contact with our football program, fans or not, they are all going for one common goal and that is success.” …

“When you literally talk about rowing the boat, you’re facing the opposite direction the bow of the boat is actually going,” he said. “You’re not able to see the future. We’ve set sail and we’ve set our direction from point A to point B, whether it’s right now to win a MAC Championship, or be the first person in your family to get a college education or to beat cancer.

“We’re making it global and community-based. Everyone can relate to this. The boat is set in a direction and we’re rowing. We can’t see the future but we can see our past. Our past is the program. It’s the people. That’s what we’re looking at and we’re learning as we go. We don’t know if there’s a waterfall ahead of us, rocks, smooth seas or sunsets. We have no idea. We just have to keep rowing.”

In my opinion, at 35 years old, P.J. Fleck is the best coach in college football that you've never heard of.  Fleck has also been rumored to be considering jobs at Purdue, Oregon, Notre Dame, Baylor, and possibly even LSU.  Kathy Beauregard, Western Michigan Athletic Director, says he has not talked to any other teams yet.