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Western’s scorching start makes P.J. Fleck hot prospect

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
P. J. Fleck

Western Michigan's historic start to the football season might be catching some outsiders by surprise.

But the insiders? Not so much.

The Broncos have been preparing for all this -- the wins, the rankings, the national attention -- since January.

"We told them this could possibly happen," Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said Monday morning.

"Pressure, expectations, noise from the outside. We put them through all those things in the offseason, pretending this was going to happen."

Western Michigan demolished Akron, 41-0, on Saturday to improve to 7-0 for the first time since 1941, nearly 40 years before Fleck was born.

The start has the Broncos ranked No. 20 in both the Associated Press and coaches' polls, ahead of this weekend's home game against Eastern Michigan.

Darrell Hazell fired with 9-33 record at Purdue

Eastern Michigan coach Chris Chreighton, whose team is off to a surprising 5-2 start, said playing well in two of three phases Saturday won't be enough against a Western Michigan team that finally had a turnover against Akron -- becoming the last Division I team to commit a turnover in 2016.

The shutout by Western Michigan was its first since 2006, and the offense really is clicking now, behind quarterback Zach Terrell, record-breaking receiver Corey Davis and backup running back Jarvion Franklin, who rushed for a school-record 281 yards against Akron. He has 795 rushing yards, seventh-best in the country, with Jamauri Bogan batting injury.

With the success of the Broncos, of course, comes the coaching-carousel buzz. Tis the season for that, with Purdue firing coach Darrell Hazell.

Several national websites, of course, have Fleck as a likely replacement. There is no indication Purdue has reached out to Fleck, who is signed through 2020, and, with very attainable bonuses, could earn more than $1 million this year.

Purdue, with a new athletic director, has committed to pouring tens of millions more money into the program to upgrade facilities, making the job more appealing than it's been in quite some time. That said, Purdue has had one winning season since 2006 and the last two coaches, Danny Hope and Hazell, were fired in Year 4. There could be better opportunities for Fleck, 35, especially if the likes of Notre Dame, Texas and Baylor go searching for a new coach during the offseason. LSU has an opening, after firing Les Miles last month.

Athletic director Kathy Beauregard expects to be asked permission by other schools looking to talk to Fleck, though if the searching school uses a search firm, that doesn't always happen. WMU won't try to block him from a big-time promotion.

Fleck, of course, always has dismissed talk that he's a candidate for anything outside of Western Michigan.

"There's a lot we can improve on," said Fleck, who has experience coaching on a team that made a long undefeated run -- including as a grad assistant at Ohio State in 2006, when the Buckeyes were perfect until losing in the national-championship game, and as a player for Northern Illinois in 2003, when the Huskies started 7-0 and reached No. 12 in the national rankings.

Fleck's buyout is $800,000 before this Nov. 30, and $600,000 for the following calendar year.

Twitter @tonypaul1984