P.J. Fleck has Influential Role Model in Pat Fitzgerald

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Western Michigan football Coach P.J. Fleck has a public persona similar to that of Northwestern head man Pat Fitzgerald.

It’s not by coincidence.

Fleck modeled himself after Fitzgerald, as Fitz graciously mentored him at a time when the WMU leader was still cutting his teeth in the coaching world.

Both are well known for being high intensity, having a strong work ethic and occasionally YELLING when the situation requires it. That’s not by accident and Saturday will see the two clash at Ryan Field in the season opener for both teams.

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Yesterday I sent in this question for P.J. Fleck on the weekly MAC Coaches media call

“What are your thoughts on what Pat Fitzgerald brings to being the face of his college football program? What’s your opinion of the high energy way in which he embodies the brand that is Northwestern football?”

“Well the energy I definitely love because that’s something we do in our culture,” Fleck responded.

“I think Pat Fitzgerald is one of the most consistent program builders of all time. I really believe that, as he did it at a place where I think it’s a little bit harder to do. He played there, grew up around there. He knows that territory, that area, that part of the city way better than most. He knows that place inside and out. I don’t think there’s a better ambassador for Northwestern than Pat Fitzgerald, both for football and for the university student perspective.”

“I admire him, he’s a guy that I emulated my career after and wanted to be like.”

Then Fleck told a story about Fitz generously advising him back when Fleck was still trying to establish himself.

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“Maybe now I’m a head coach because when I was an assistant at Northern Illinois, I would call coaches and ask them if I could just take them to lunch.”

“He was the only coach that ever said yes; literally,” the Sugar Grove, IL native and former NIU Huskies star continued.

“I drove to Evanston and took him out to lunch and here I am just a position coach in the Mid-American Conference and he’s a Head Coach in the Big Ten, and he was willing to share a lot of things with me. I have a ton of respect for him, always have, always will and I think he’s one of the best coaches in the country.

“Not just the collegiate level but NFL, high school, in all of football.”

Even if you’re not a NU fan, you’ve got to greatly admire what Fitzgerald did there. It was truly benevolent.

I also posed the same question to Fitz at his weekly presser.

“I’ve known P.J. for a long time, back when I was an assistant coach.  I’m happy for him, another Chicago guy being successful coaching college football. He’s turned the program around, they’re predicted to win the MAC West. I’ll be a fan of his in every game but Saturday,” he responded.

 “I’m fired up for the job that he’s doing.”

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Yesterday also saw Fleck taking swift and decisive action against two players who were arrested on very serious criminal charges.

Above and beyond that, Phillip John Fleck did something most college coaches never do. He took both ownership and blame in the situation. Coaches hardly ever put the onus on themselves in situations like this, so Fleck’s words were quite remarkable as he explained why he kicked the two players off the team. 

That act, much like Fitzgerald’s act of benevolence articulated by Fleck, conveys how both of these Chicagoland products have depth and character way beyond what you see in television clips.

They have both been known to do the ALL CAPS! type communication when the cameras are rolling. (To be fair, or “tbf” as millenials say, Fitzgerald hasn’t really done much of that the past few years. He really only yelled a lot during his first few years on the job)

These displays are essentially required in order to appeal to the meathead demographic of the football community. It just comes with the territory. Football is a great game with a large, diverse audience casting a very wide net.

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There are meatballs within that net, and I know that I’m just as guilty of pandering to that segment as anybody else involved in the game. We all cater to the “DO YOU EVEN LIFT BRO?!” crowd from time to time; it’s inherent to the sport’s very fabric.

Coaches are under tremendous pressure to not just be a coach and carry out all the responsibilities therein, but to also play a coach on television. It’s vital to recruiting.

Underneath the cartoonish soundbite clips, there’s usually a real person with depth and substance. We certainly know this is true with Pat Fitzgerald and P.J. Fleck.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network. and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, currently contributes regularly to the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye publication and Bold Global.

He also consistently appears on numerous radio and television talk shows all across the country. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and Sound Cloud.

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