DETROIT – P.J. Fleck's first season as a collegiate head coach wasn't anything to write home about, as his Western Michigan Broncos struggled to a 1-11 record in an injury-riddled year.
At the same time, Fleck wasn't expecting to come in like gangbusters and compete for conference titles right away. He feels it was all about building that foundation for future success, just like Joe Novak did when Fleck was a wide receiver at Northern Illinois.
"Don't sacrifice what you really want, for what you want right now. A lot of people look at immediate gratification, that's what this profession's based on, immediate gratification – win now, win now," Fleck said during Wednesday's MAC Media Day at Ford Field. "Sometimes when you focus on just winning, and winning now, the program never gets built. It gets built on little weak stilts, it's like building a beach home with no foundation."
In terms of the foundation, it's something Fleck seems extremely proud of. While the 2013 season may have been a horror story of sorts, it didn't carry over into recruiting. Fleck's Broncos brought home the top-ranked recruiting class in the MAC, according to Rivals, and the 46th-best in the nation. Fleck said as many as 14 true freshmen could see the field this year, and maybe even start.
"We needed to get recruits in there. We had all 25 committed before the season started, that was huge. But we recruited the right people, because it showed, because we went through a season of 1-11 and they all stuck," Fleck said. "Which is shocking. They had to walk down the hallways with a Western Michigan shirt on every week of a week just getting waxed. And they had to sit there and say yep, I'm [going to WMU] instead of Florida or Nebraska or Florida State or Michigan State, or Minnesota or whatever.
"That's the type of kid though, that can handle adversity. Those are the kids we wanted to build the program around, and that's what we brought in."
Fleck made a lot of noise when he arrived in Kalamazoo, bringing in his "Row the Boat" mantra which is featured on WMU's uniforms, and elsewhere in town.
"There's oars everywhere," WMU wideout Corey Davis said. "Restaurants and in the community. It's a lot of fun. A lot of people have a lot of fun to it and they get it. It means a lot to everyone on the team, as well as around the community."
Fleck, a Sugar Grove product and Kaneland graduate, has a charismatic attitude which may have rubbed some people the wrong way. When asked about it Wednesday, Fleck said he felt he needed to turn things up.
"I am who I am. I'm extremely, believe it or not, people don't know this, I'm very humble to be where I am. But that means every day, that's where the energy comes from," he said. "I never want to lose the opportunity to do what I'm doing, and the fear of failure is always in my mind, and that's what motivates me on a daily basis."
Fleck also felt his charisma carried over into recruiting, helping the Broncos land the highly-touted class that they did.
"If I would have been like 'woe is us, we stink, this is not good', then we would have got nobody," Fleck said. "Nobody would have wanted to come play for a guy like that. But I think that when you sit and look at what adversity we've been through, that's the true measure of champions. And I think that's what's going to be, as we kind of go forward, you're going to start to see that characteristic of our football team."