KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Rowing. Rowing. Gone.
Just six days into the new year and four days after the Cotton Bowl Classic, Western Michigan University football head coach P.J. Fleck has now become the former, as he has accepted a job to become the new head coach of the University of Minnesota.
The official news comes after endless hours of speculation via social media, where contradicting reports from Minnesota and Kalamazoo media were rampant of Fleck’s signing in Minnesota.
In a press conference held on Jan. 6 around noon, WMU athletic director Kathy Beauregard sounded optimistic about the ability to fill the sudden, although somewhat expected, vacancy.
“This is a great job. No doubt about it. We are probably one of the most sought after jobs, and I can tell you that the phone is already off the hook,” Beauregard said.
Along with Fleck’s departure after a wildly successful 13-1 season, the question of whether or not his famous “Row the Boat” mantra will stay in the hands of the university, as it is owned by the WMU Board of Trustees, or will it go along with Fleck to Minneapolis?
“Yes, we do own the licensing regarding ‘Row the Boat’. That was part of the discussions in the commitment we had when he first came to the university,” Beauregard said. “I do expect the conversations to come up, but we have not had any of that at this time.”
Fleck, on the other hand, has intentions to include his “Row the Boat” mantra within his new position at Minnesota.
“[Row the Boat] is going to be blended with Ski-U-Ma, I’ll tell you that. Somehow, someway. I’ll tell you how it’s all connected, but I promise you it’s all connected,” Fleck said in an interview with Minnesota’s Fox 9.
In addition to the “Row the Boat” mantra, Fleck’s departure comes with the concern of whether or not he will take assistant coaches from the WMU organization with him to Minnesota. Although the discussions have not yet been had, she expects several coaches to depart along with Fleck.
“It is my assumption that there will be several accompanying him, however I don’t know names, numbers or any of those issues,” Beauregard said.
The reasoning for Fleck’s departure comes with some uncertainty, but the state of Minnesota’s program could prove to be a worthy challenge for his coaching capabilities.
“If you would have asked me if [Minnesota] would be a job that would have been on his list of top priority, I would have said no. However it is a Big 10 school, it’s an incredible university. They have challenges ahead of them - PJ likes challenges. We certainly are going to wish him the best in that,” Beauregard said.
In addition to Fleck’s departure comes the discussion of a buyout of his standing contract through 2020 with WMU, which totals $600,000.
“We have not yet had discussions on how that is going to occur,” Beauregard said. “[$600,000] is the amount that he and or Minnesota owes us for him leaving before his contract terms were completed.”
Beauregard also spoke on the behalf of the community surrounding Kalamazoo and WMU, including “new money” that was obtained by the boosters and business community
“I know we have a business community that still is excited as they could possibly be about the momentum that we have in the program and are continuing to be able to supply us the needed external dollars that are going to have to take place,” Beauregard said.
Fleck is walking into a rather controversial role as head coach in Minnesota shortly after 10 players have been accused of a gang rape in early September, followed by a protest of the administration and their bowl game against Washington State, which was inevitably played resulting in a win for the Golden Gophers. Along with the rape allegations, former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill, a known mentor of Fleck’s, has said he “won’t be stepping foot into [Minnesota’s] stadium” or “stepping back into that university,” according to an interview with 1500 ESPN radio.
Aside from the decision made by Fleck and both Minnesota and WMU administrations, Beauregard is confident those involved in the decision making process will find another individual to helm the growing football program.
“There’s a lot that’s involved if you’re going after people in head coaching positions and the timing is a bit difficult. But that does not stop the Broncos. There’s no doubt about that. There's a tremendous coaching staff behind us to help recruit our new coach, which I will count on them doing that too.”