Safe to say Monday will be a tough day to top for Kaneland graduate P.J. Fleck.
Fleck, the 32-year-old former Northern Illinois star, was named Western Michigan University’s new head football coach on Monday, hours before he and his wife, Tracie, reportedly welcomed their second child, daughter Paisley, to the family.
Fleck takes over the Mid-American Conference program after his one-year stint as wide receivers coach for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fleck was an all-MAC wideout for the Huskies as a senior in 2003 before a two-year run with the San Francisco 49ers, mostly on the practice squad. Since then, he’s served as a graduate assistant at Ohio State and as an assistant coach at NIU before leaving to work under Greg Schiano at Rutgers and, most recently, with Tampa Bay.
Fleck’s former coach at NIU, Joe Novak, called Fleck one of the premier young coaches in the profession. He will become the youngest head coach at a Football Bowl Subdivision school.
“That old corny thing, he’s even a better person,” Novak said. “He affects everyone he’s around. He’s positive, infectious. I think he’s a born football coach, a natural football coach.”
Fleck’s youth and lack of previous head coaching experience naturally sparked some initial skepticism among Broncos fans on message boards Monday.
“That’s something P.J. probably faced his whole career at just about every level,” said Joe Thorgesen, who coached Fleck at Kaneland. “Somebody said he was either too small or not fast enough or whatever may be the case, but if you know P.J. like I do, he will just outwork people. His commitment and passion, I know right away the kids at Western Michigan are going to know they have [someone] special leading them.”
Fleck takes over in Kalamazoo, Mich., for longtime Broncos coach Bill Cubit, who was fired after Western Michigan completed a 4-8 season. He is expected to be introduced by WMU at a news conference this afternoon.
One of the few down sides for Fleck – he now becomes an adversary of his alma mater, NIU, both in the MAC West standings and on the recruiting trail, especially in the Chicago suburbs.
“I know how much P.J. loves Northern Illinois University,” Novak said. “For three hours on a specific Saturday in the fall, you’re coaching against the opponent across the field. Sometimes it’s like competing against people in your family. Sometimes those people want to win even more than [other games] for bragging rights.”