P.J. Fleck’s name is on the lips of every Division I athletic director looking to replace a head football coach. He just completed the first ever undefeated regular season in Western Michigan history, taking the team from 1-11 in 2013 to the Cotton Bowl in 2016. It’s the most stunning turnaround in college football. His success ensures a big pay day is coming — how big is up to him. The 36-year-old currently makes $800 thousand per year at Western Michigan; a drop in the bucket compared to what awaits him at a traditional football powerhouse. For instance, Oregon (where Fleck has been most commonly linked) just fired its head coach, Mark Helfrich, who signed a four year, $17.5 million deal in February 2015. Fleck will undoubtedly move on to a flashier school with more pay, the only question is whether Cincinnati will be his next stop or if he’ll move straight to an elite football school like Oregon.
Here’s why I think he’d be a great fit in Cincinnati.
Ability to Develop Talent
As I wrote in the Down the Drive staff reactions (which you can find here), I believe one of the biggest hurdles for the next coach is making up for the lack of talent that Tuberville recruited over the last few years. Fleck has an impeccable track record at developing talent.
Take Western Michigan starting quarterback Zach Terrell as exhibit A. Terrell was a two-star recruit that committed to Western Michigan before Flack was hired. Fleck committed to him early in his tenure and has molded him into an outstanding quarterback. Just look at Terrell’s numbers this year: 3,376 yards, 32 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. With one game left in his career, he has 95 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Those are amazing numbers for any player, let alone a former two-star recruit.
Consider Corey Davis as exhibit B. Davis was ranked as only the 136th best wide receiver by Scout in the 2013 class. He was only the fifth-best wide receiver recruit out of the state of Illinois. Now he’s projected as a first round NFL draft pick. He just completed his third straight season of at least 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. His stat line for 2016 is 91 reception, 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns.
If Fleck can do that for Davis and Terrell, what can he do for Ross Trail and Khalil Lewis?
He Gets Results
Fleck just completed one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football history. It’s not just that he was able to take a team like Western Michigan to the Cotton Bowl, it’s that he did it so quickly. After going 1-11 in his first season, Fleck has led Western Michigan to a 29-10 record since and three bowl games in three years. This is a school that had only been to four bowls before he arrived. Fleck has changed the entire trajectory of the football program at Western Michigan. They could easily develop into another Boise State and see sustained success for the next 10 to 15 years.
Consider this: after Fleck’s first team went 1-11 in 2013 he then had to go out and recruit players to come to Western Michigan. He was competing against schools with richer football histories, much better climates than west Michigan and far greater resources. Despite all this he pulled the 56th ranked recruiting class according to Scout while Cincinnati had the 60th ranked class. In 2016 he had the 48th ranked recruiting class and every school ranked above Western Michigan was either from a Power 5 conference or Notre Dame. That’s a remarkable job by someone recruiting in the MAC and with just four years of head coaching experience.
How likely is it that Fleck will be hired by Cincinnati?
Call me an optimist, but I believe there’s a very strong possibility that Fleck could be the next head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats. He’s been linked repeatedly to Oregon, but I bet the Ducks go for someone with more experience. I wouldn’t expect him to stay at Cincinnati very long, but if UC can get three to five years out of him he could potentially reverse some of the damage done during the Tuberville era and put Cincinnati back on a road to becoming a serious national contender.