Last night, ESPNU aired the third episode in a four-part series, “Being P.J. Fleck.”
Here are a few of the highlights from “Compete-Compete-Compete”:
Dealing with disaster in his first season as head coach. Four years later, after a 13-1 season, it’s easy to look back and forgive Fleck for that 1-11 record in his first season at Western Michigan. But at the time, he felt like he had hit rock bottom, and turned to former Northern Illinois head coach Joe Novak and former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan for guidance. Both urged him to stay the course. Nolan will now go so far as to say that season was the best coaching of Fleck’s career.
A 1-11 season and a divorce were not enough to scare off Heather Fleck. Feeling like the most unpopular man in Kalamazoo, Fleck was shocked when his future wife asked him out on a date. He had to clarify with her, “You do know who I am, right? Are you sure you want to date me?” But evidently she showed up at his office and told him to get in the car because they were going out to dinner. It’s interesting to hear that how much his self-esteem was shot after that first season at Western Michigan.
In his words, Heather “coaches the head coach.” Whereas he works to hold his players, coaches, and staff accountable, she is the one who holds him accountable. Fleck uses his win-loss record to illustrate the difference that she has made in his life: “I’m 1-11 without her, and 29-11 with her.” Hopefully that record holds at Minnesota.
The Flecks have mastered the art of the blended family. The episode focuses a lot on Fleck’s personal life, so of course his relationship with his children was a point of emphasis. When asked how they’ve made it work, Fleck credits Heather with being able to connect with the kids and make sure that everyone gets along.
Missing time with his kids is clearly the toughest part of coaching college football for Fleck. The kids seem to spend a lot of time at the football complex — at one point, Fleck is goofing around in the lounge area with his kids before flipping a switch and heading into a team meeting — but it’s clear Fleck has had to make sacrifices.
The College Football Playoff Championship trophy is like the Holy Grail. It was kind of remarkable to watch Fleck explain to a staff member who somehow hasn’t seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that the process of winning a championship is much like the process of choosing the right cup during the film’s climax. He emphasizes that the dream is the process, because once you’ve made a dream a reality, then you simply move on to the next dream.
Catch the series’ final episode, “Sleeping Giant,” at 8 p.m., Wednesday, on ESPNU.