Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck: Process And Culture

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By Paul Markgraff • Managing Editor • This Is AFCA Magazine & AFCA Weekly

As you might imagine, the ethos of Row The Boat has spread like wildfire beyond the Western Michigan campus. It’s one of those concepts that can’t be contained and moves with a life of its own.

“It’s all based on life, and it’s all based on a tragedy,” says Fleck.

Perhaps that’s why Row The Boat resonates so clearly within the hearts and minds of us all. We’ve all faced adversity, and ultimately, like it or not, we all know that the only way to walk through fire is to put one foot in front of the other.

But Row The Boat is more than just a mantra. Really, it’s the public face of the Broncos’ internal culture; it’s an idea that is tightly woven into the fabric of what the program stands for and how its student-athletes and coaches view themselves and world with which they interact.


“As crazy as our culture sounds, it’s very real,” says Fleck. “We don’t try to be different for the sake of being different We have a very unique culture because it really is us. We don’t have to act like this. It’s just us. It becomes your DNA. Our culture is at the forefront of our recruiting, our player development, our community involvement, our X’s & O’s, our schemes, our relationships, our personal lives. It takes over your entire life. I’m a firm believer in two things: process and culture. I didn’t say wins or losses or results. I said process and culture. It’s what our program is all about.”

Culture is a tough word to define. That seven-letter word encompasses complex ideas of religion, spirituality, arts, beliefs, laws, morals and accepted societal norms. Culture also typically demands consistent language.

“That’s why we have ‘Bronconese,’” says Fleck, giving name to his program’s very own language. “It’s 217 words that our players must know. It sounds a little different, but if we were to have 105 different definitions of ‘leadership,’ and I say the word leadership, then how can I expect everyone to be on the same page. Or, if I say ‘family,’ but we don’t define ‘family,’ then we all have different views of what family is. Everyone comes from a different family and has a different upbringing, after all.

“What if I say ‘maturity?’ We have a lot of people who don’t have any idea what maturity means. Our culture defines us, one definition for every word, to at least give players a foundation from which to work together in our organization. Then, when they leave here, they are going to have a major foundation that will set them apart from everyone else in the country.”

For more information about Coach Fleck, Western Michigan and the “Row The Boat” philosophy, make sure to check out the cover story in the January/February 2017 issue of This is AFCA Magazine!

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