PJ Fleck Should Have Stayed at Western

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The magic is gone. Head coach PJ Fleck of the Western Michigan football team has left to become the head coach at the University of Minnesota after having a wonderful season. They finished the regular season undefeated and ranked 17th in the country, even after the team’s loss to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.

Much of the excitement surrounded head coach Phillip John (PJ) Fleck, who guided the program to its best year ever along with his once mocked, now famous slogan “Row the Boat.” Fleck will now be rowing his boat to the University of Minnesota.

Coach Fleck, should have stayed where he was appreciated, in a city where people liked his  flamboyant nature and fully accepted them. At Minnesota, he is going to a larger program with more scrutiny and stiffer expectations. I imagine he wants more money and to coach a bigger program, but. . .

The Big Ten conference is a serious conference. In the Mid American Conference (MAC), Fleck could have fun and be appreciated. But in the Big Ten, everyone takes football so seriously. There is less tolerance for humor, and his antics, like running up and down the field and other flamboyant gestures, will probably be laughed at by the football elitists.

Also, Minnesota is not some prize catch of programs. This is a mediocre Big Ten team, not a major powerhouse. They haven’t won the Big Ten championship in 49 years. Out of all teams that have won, Minnesota is tied for the longest drought.

Fleck left a dominant force in the MAC to be at a middling team in the Big Ten. I watched Western intently this season, and I don’t think Fleck is a strong enough tactician to make his offense work without either really good running backs or a good receiver. Fleck’s offense is not some complicated, high concept offense. It was always about the talent at Western that made Fleck so successful.

PJ Fleck will not be successful at Minnesota. Fleck’s offense was so successful because of the talent he had. Talent like Corey Davis at receiver, who set the NCAA record for receiving yards in his career with 5278 receiving yards in 4 years at Western. Davis was a dominant receiver who was capable of making amazing catches and often drew two defenders on every play, which left space open for others to make plays.

This is most likely what drove Fleck’s offensive team to success, not any brilliant scheme. Minnesota certainly has good players, but none with a talent like Davis. His players were dominant in the MAC, while at Minnesota he will find players who are mediocre for the Big Ten and subpar in stronger conferences like the SEC (the Southeastern Conference).

Fleck will need to elevate his tactics to win, once he begins playing teams like Michigan and Ohio State on a yearly basis. The offense can’t be “run the ball up the middle for no gain twice, then throw it deep to Davis” as it seemed to be at times last season. In the MAC, you don’t see many particularly dominant defenses, certainly nothing like what you’ll see in the upper echelon of the Big Ten.

The Cotton Bowl was a preview of how Fleck handled these defenses when he coached against Wisconsin. He got his players fired up to and ready to go and they played their hearts out, however, the final score should not have been as close as it was. Western got very lucky when a desperate heave into the endzone by Western Quarterback Zach Terrell was caught miraculously by Corey Davis. This tightened the score, but the game was not really a close one. Western was clearly overmatched by the bigger and stronger Wisconsin players who beat them, 24-16.

Fleck failed to find a scheme that worked, although he did manage to keep Wisconsin under 30 points, which they averaged throughout the year. Fleck should be commended for the job the defense did, but the offense didn’t match in production. At Minnesota he will have bigger and faster players, but will he have a game breaking talent like Davis, who some analysts are calling the best receiver prospect in the draft? The answer is no.

Fleck looked better at Western and coached better talent compared to the rest of the conference. Fleck could have been king of the MAC, instead he’s just another motivator with not enough football IQ. I wish him the best, but he probably isn’t going to succeed.

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