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Dr. Saturday

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck tells emotional experience that led to the saying “Row The Boat”

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

View photo


(Western Michigan Athletics)

During this offseason, we’ve introduced you to the lighter side of new Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, who took the Polar Plunge for charity and starred in a coaching staff only Harlem Shake video.

But this is something totally different.

On Wednesday, Western Michigan released its first video in a series of short films informing viewers of Fleck's vision for Western Michigan football. The first video, which is called “Row The Boat,” is incredibly personal and inspirational, which is why we thought this would be a perfect way to get to know the other side of Fleck, who at 32 years old, is the youngest coach in the FBS.

When Fleck arrived on campus, he introduced the motivational saying “Row The Boat,” which speaks to a group of people working in unison to reach a common goal. Early in the first video, Fleck explains his personal attachment to the saying.

“Row The Boat first came to the forefront when my wife and I lost our second child,” Fleck says in the video. “We had a second son after Carter, we had a second son name Colt. And Colton had a heart condition and we lost him shortly after birth. We knew toward the end of the pregnancy that we were going to lose him, it was just a matter of how long he’d be with us. We got to spend time with him, be with him, hold him. But to watch your son pass away in your wife’s arms is an amazing experience in terms of the amount of sorrow and the amount of frustration, questions.

“But it was something that I had in the back of my mind to say, ‘Hey, no matter what happens, no matter what we’re going to do here, we’re just going to keep rowing. Whatever turns out, however it turns out, we’re just going to keep rowing. Then when it does turn out, good or bad, we’re just going to keep rowing, keep rowing and keep rowing. So, it was able to, at least, help my method to get through some type of adversity.”

It’s rare that a football coach shares something so personal and emotional, but as you watch the rest of the video, you realize how much that moment shaped Fleck’s life, his coaching and his way of thinking.

He goes on to give examples of rowing the boat and talking about getting the entire town of Kalamazoo, Mich., involved in Western Michigan football.

The entire video, which is about 10 minutes or so, really makes you want to route for Fleck and the Broncos.

He has a powerful message and a lot of infectious energy. It would be tough not to want to play for him.

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