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Fleck's "Row The Boat" Mantra Didn't Work For WMU

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Western Michigan head coach talks a good game, but all he brought to campus in 2013 was a terrible record and a big facilities bill. The Broncos need more in 2014. Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images.
Western Michigan head coach talks a good game, but all he brought to campus in 2013 was a terrible record and a big facilities bill. The Broncos need more in 2014. Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images.

Thank you Western Michigan. You taught us all something valuable in 2013: Broncos cannot row boats.

P.J. Fleck deserves credit because anybody walking around the WMU campus since last April might not have seen the obvious. Fleck flourished in this "Row the Boat" mantra basically to the point of brainwashing the Western side of the Mitten State. He successfully pulled off a new tradition and it will not be forgotten. The question is, will it continue?

Fleck has been at Western Michigan for exactly one year. Since then, he has added two things: A new mantra and a $3.4 million bill on facility upgrades. This bill includes upgrades to the weight room, locker room, meeting rooms, and replacing the artificial turf surface at Waldo Stadium. The mantra, “Row the Boat,” was great when he explained the meaning last spring, but with WMU coming in last in the MAC's West Division, it’s hard to tell if Fleck is making the impact he hoped.

"It's very simple when you break it down," Fleck told reporters in May. "There are three parts to rowing the boat. There is the oar, which is the energy behind rowing the boat. There is the 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." 

WMU can proudly say they were not the worst in the conference; the Broncos were able to beat UMass by one point with a two-point conversion, but UMass was the worst in the conference. These two schools brought home last place for the East and West divisions. Overall, WMU's statistics were troublesome. Opponents rushed for more than twice the number of yards (WMU: 1,391. Opponents: 3,000). They had a 31 percent third-down conversion rate. They were bottom rung in the MAC in every statistic in the book, other than two things: pass defense and field goals. (At least they had one way of putting points on the board.)

Defense was the team's biggest strength of the season. Not only pass defense, but they forced many turnovers, including five from the Central Michigan Chippewas. Still, this team has not come together. Motivation should be key, but "Row the Boat" is not where they get it from.

There has not been a bigger hype for a school season that ended in as much of a down note. Fleck stayed optimistic throughout most of the season, trying to convince onlookers that what they were really witnessing was a long-lasting foundation sure to succeed. After losing to NIU in their last game, Fleck was somewhat stressed, especially since he was facing his alma mater. Still, he wanted to make sure fans knew where the program stands.

"I've really learned don't sacrifice what you really want for what you want right now," Fleck told reporters. "That would be the quote I'd give you, because that is true. Don't sacrifice what we really want for what we want right now. The future is really bright."

Nice save there, Fleck!

Point blank: WMU is struggling. Sorry Western Michigan. It's hard not to be disappointed. You have become the little sister in the league, and nobody likes when parents use the word disappointed.

Broncos fans sure are counting on you, Fleck. Many are waiting to see the next thing you are going to pull out of your hat. Your sly words still are appealing, and it would be a testament to true coaching skills if you can turn this around. Luckily, your commits in the recruiting process for next year are promising, and hopefully the promises you make to them stand true.

WMU athletic director Kathy Beauregard still believes, that is for sure. In regards to the facility upgrades and recruiting, she told reporters, "When we first hired P.J. we sat down and talked about what we believed was necessary for us to get the championship. Certainly, recruiting was a huge part of that. Also, knowing to date that we haven't really done a lot to our facility for over 15 years and we basically came up with a list of what the enhancements were that we felt we needed to."

As long as she stands behind him, it is safe to say Fleck and his go-to attitude are sticking around Kalamazoo.

Maybe the Broncos just need to tweak the saying. Maybe they should call the boat a ship this time. Think bigger, WMU.