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December 19, 2012

Fleck represents a program, recruiting overhaul

It's obviously not a secret that the hiring of P.J. Fleck as Western Michigan's head coach represents a culture change. It's not a surprise, either, as it's something that was mentioned by various outlets including BroncoBlitz itself.

What was somewhat surprising was the way that the change was emphasized in Tuesday afternoon's press conference introducing Fleck.

At times, it seemed as though the administration was going out of their way to highlight the differences between Fleck and outgoing head coach Bill Cubit. When speaking of what the current players wanted in a coach, athletic director Kathy Beauregard mentioned youth and a relentlessly positive attitude.

Perhaps more poignant still was the mention of the recruiting philosophy of the program.

"When I first started on this, one of the most important things we did was actually take time to sit down with our student-athletes," Beauregard said. "First of all, they talked about how they want a positive coaching energy around the program. They definitely wanted someone with Midwest recruiting success, who knew that we could look at expanding some of our recruiting area back to the Midwest,"

This is huge news for the program, which has spent much of their time in Florida under Cubit, particularly in pursuit of speed and skill position players.

Fleck himself did not take long to echo Beauregard's sentiments.

"We're going to recruit a six-hour radius. We'll dabble in the South, but our main area is going to be the Midwest," he added.

What "dabbling" actually means remains to be seen, but this all seemed to be in direct response to critics of the previous staff. Many local fans felt that Cubit and company simply did not make enough effort to recruit Michigan and the Midwest.

Fleck left little doubt that the philosophy would change. He repeatedly lauded the positives of the Midwest as both a football hotbed and a great place to live.

When BroncoBlitz was able to speak one-on-one with the new coach following his speech, he expanded on why he feels recruiting the local area is so important.

"I think it brings people into the stands. It spreads the word. If a local kid is going to Western Michigan, there's an excitement because other people can experience it with them," Fleck explained. "They can see them every week, travel with them. The great thing about the MAC is, it's all pretty close. It'll rally a community around a school, and a player."

The 32-year-old invoked his own experience, explaining how he felt he played better because he was representing his local area and had friends and family in the stands at every game.

Fleck and the administration also did their best to assuage any concerns that the Cubit-era emphasis on academics and character would be lessened. President John Dunn's mentioned in his remarks that in his interview over Skype, Fleck said he believes slacking in academics would lead to slacking on the football field. Later, in talking with BroncoBlitz, Fleck echoed the concerns about character.

"We want strong men of character, period. We want players to attack, that are smart, that swarm. We want players that love, not like, football. Can't live without it, it's passion, in their blood," Fleck said.

This is not going to end the debate that's been raging about recruiting Florida. It would be surprising to see WMU abandon the area now, after the school has established a name, but it's unlikely that Florida players will make up nearly half of Fleck's classes, as they often did under Cubit.

Recruiting is likely to be the most tangible change in the P.J. Fleck era, however long that turns out to be. But there was no mistaking it while in attendance at the press conference: Everything is going to change.

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