CHICAGO (WOOD) — On the second day of Big Ten Media Days, two familiar faces in the state of Michigan were among the biggest storylines of the event.
P.J. Fleck took the stage first to kick off the morning activities. The former Western Michigan head coach left WMU this past winter after four years for a bigger paycheck and a chance to coach in the Big Ten at the University of Minnesota.
Fleck said his time in Kalamazoo was what shaped him and taught him how to be a head coach.
“It’s extremely difficult,” Fleck said when asked about leaving Western Michigan. “I’ll always look at Kalamazoo as home. And I know there’s a lot of people that don’t like me now that I’ve left and there’s a lot of people that understand it.”
When looking back on at his four-year tenure at Kalamazoo, Fleck said he is extremely proud of the goals that his program achieved.
“We did exactly what we said we were gonna do at Western Michigan University,” Fleck said. “I still remember at our opening press conference (saying), ‘We’re gonna become a national program, be a national name, we’re gonna win a championship.’ And everyone thought I was crazy, but that’s OK.”
One reason Fleck gave for the Broncos’ rise to the national spotlight in 2016 was the support given by the Kalamazoo community.
“What we were able to show was the power of the city if you come together, the power of a university,” Fleck said. “If everybody is rowing the boat in the same direction, same speed and same efficiency, you can accomplish extraordinary things. And Kalamazoo has the makeup to always do that, it had it all along. Even before me, it’s always had it. We just went in there and showed them a little bit what they were turning their head to, that’s all we did.”
Fleck also said that he believes the Western Michigan football program is in great hands under new head coach Tim Lester.
“Jim Tressel gave me the best advice, he always told me ‘Don’t ever wear out your welcome. There’s somebody out there who is qualified and maybe even better at your job and can do it better at that place more than you.’ And Coach Lester is going to do an absolutely elite job,” Fleck said.
HARBAUGH: INSPIRED BY FAILURE TO FINISH STRONG
To finish the morning, the last coach scheduled to speak was Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. With all eyes on him as he took the podium, he did not fail to entertain reporters.
Harbaugh opted for his signature khakis and Michigan ball cap rather than a suit and spoke to reporters about the Wolverines’ off-season and the upcoming 2017 season.
Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten championship since 2004, but back-to-back 10-win seasons under Harbaugh and some highly rated recruiting classes have many thinking they could be in the hunt this season.
This is inspired, Harbaugh says, by the team’s failure to finish last season.
“We lost three of our last four games,” Harbaugh said. “Good, maybe that will motivate us to put more into it. Coach better, play better, train harder and put more of our heart into each and every one of those ballgames.”
Despite losing the team’s top two receivers to the NFL, Harbaugh switched Drake Harris from receiver to defensive back. Harbaugh said he is looking forward to seeing how Harris responds with some full-time coaching. Harbaugh said he explained to the former Grand Rapids Christian standout that his length, athleticism and smooth route running would make him an enticing prospect on the next level.
“That’s what NFL teams are looking for, 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 corners,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got that by birth, there might be an opportunity there. So we’re giving it a shot.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing this Michigan team is a lack of experience. The Wolverines only return six starters from a year ago, but Harbaugh said he felt good about where his team was at heading into the start of the season.