What's Wrong With Western?
By Jon Coffey
“The blueprint is there. The blueprint is very, very clear.”
Those were the words of P.J. Fleck when he was introduced as the new head coach of the Western Michigan University football team last December. His hiring announced the beginning of a new direction for the program and Broncos fans weren’t shy about their enthusiasm for the future of their team.
But following last weekend’s 38-17 loss at home against division foe Ball State, Western Michigan (0-8, 0-4) is still without a win, and many fans are wondering what happened to Fleck’s blueprint.
Few believed that the Broncos would have much of a chance against Big Ten foes Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern, but even fewer people would have predicted Nicholls State would walk out of Waldo Stadium with a four-point win.
To make matters worse, senior quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen went down with a shoulder injury in the Broncos’ game against Toledo. Redshirt freshmen Zach Terrell led Western Michigan at quarterback the following week, throwing for just 164 yards and two interceptions. But Van Tubbergen wasn’t much better when he was healthy, turning in a stat line that included a 44-percent completion rate, four touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Frustration, blame and a pessimistic attitude are expected in the midst of a season like this, especially for a team looking to start anew, but coach Fleck seems to be projecting the opposite demeanor.
“No one said this would be easy,” Fleck said in his weekly press conference following the 47-20 loss to Toledo. “But you look at the offseason and you look at what we’ve done in the recruiting department, the facilities department, the fundraising department, the culture department, I think we’ve been 100 percent a success.”
Coming into the season, many projections (including mine) had Western Michigan competing for the No. 4 spot in the MAC West behind Northern Illinois, Ball State, and Toledo. But now that the possibility of finishing with a .500 or better record was statistically eliminated with the 33-0 loss to Buffalo, the Broncos are left to build a solid cornerstone for the future.
Fleck summed it up last week: “You look at the wins and losses — yeah, we have not been a success there. But when you look at the foundation being built on our football team, and where we’re going as a program, I think we’re exactly where I thought we’d be. Just because you create energy doesn’t mean you guarantee a 12-0 season. That’s not it. I was hired to build a program, change a culture, turn around a community, build a program from the ground up. That’s why I took the job. That’s what’s exciting about it. That’s why every day, I’m the luckiest coach in the country.”
For now it looks like the Broncos have a long way to go. But if you talk to their coach, that journey begins this weekend, when the Broncos take to the road for an enticing opportunity against 1-6 Massachusetts.