College Football
Fleck focused on coaching WMU, game against resurgent Eagles
College Football

Fleck focused on coaching WMU, game against resurgent Eagles

Updated Mar. 5, 2020 1:28 a.m. ET

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck has been preparing the Broncos for the national spotlight, putting them through media training and other high-pressure social and athletic situations.

Fleck's ''Row the Boat'' mantra and positive approach have made him popular during the unbeaten season for No. 20 WMU (7-0, 3-0 MAC West), and the first national ranking in the school's 109-year history have pulled him into the coaching rumor mill.

After noting how attendance has grown at his weekly on-campus press conference, Fleck was asked about his name being thrown out as a possibility for open jobs - most recently at Purdue.

''It's elite exposure for Western Michigan,'' Fleck said. ''My focus is on today, that's the way I've lived my life. I can't control rumors and speculation and I'll never comment on rumors and speculation. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in coaching this football team and being the best head coach I can be today.''


Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell says talk of Fleck's future is ''no distraction to us at all,'' even if he believes his coach should be a candidate for a more high-profile position.

''You see the commitment from him every single day. If he were to come in and be a different person, maybe be reserved, maybe we'd be worried,'' Terrell said. ''He deserves those jobs, 100 percent. He's one of the best coaches in college football. ... He deserves to be mentioned in those categories. But he brings it every day and that's all we can ask.''


While Western Michigan makes national headlines, the opponent on Saturday (3:30 p.m., American Sports Network) is experiencing a resurgence of its own. Eastern Michigan (5-2, 2-1) has already won four more games than last season, which is the biggest turnaround among all FBS programs. In fact, long a MAC cellar-dweller, the Eagles totaled five wins in their last three seasons combined.

''I think our guys have done a really good job of not getting caught up in outside momentum and what-not. We are not a team that gets very high and we have not gotten very low,'' EMU coach Chris Creighton said. ''It's interesting because I'm more of an emotional coach, and that's not necessarily a strength. But our team has remained level-headed, and we need to continue that.''


Saturday's game will serve as a tiebreaker of sorts for Western Michigan running back Jarvion Franklin and Eastern Michigan quarterback Brogan Roback, who shared their division's offensive player of the week honors after last weekend's wins. Franklin ran for a school-record 281 yards against Akron, the second-highest total in the FBS this season. Roback threw for a career-high 347 yards and three touchdowns in a win at Ohio.


When Davon Tucker lost a fumble in the second quarter of last week's win over Akron, it was the first turnover of the season for Western Michigan. The Broncos' six-plus games of turnover-free football was the longest in the nation and, Fleck said, one of the biggest reasons for its 6-0 start. Ball protection will be important against Eastern Michigan, which is No. 6 in the country with eight fumble recoveries. Senior defensive lineman Pat O'Connor - who has 5 1/2 sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for loss - has forced three of those fumbles.


Perhaps the most notable statistic in Eastern Michigan's turnaround season is that the Eagles have won three straight road games for the first time since 1967, drawing praise from Creighton for their ''maturity and focus'' away from home.


Fleck says the Broncos are enjoying the extra attention and expectations that comes with this historic season. ''We embrace it. We love it,'' he said. ''It's hard. Don't get me wrong, it's very hard on a daily basis. But we embrace it and make sure they understand that most people don't get the chance to feel this type of pressure.''


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