Fleck insists again he’s not leaving Western Michigan

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — He’s been asked over and over. What’s once more?

About your future, P.J. Fleck ...

“I’m going to Kalamazoo,” Western Michigan’s coach quipped following a 24-16 loss to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. “I don’t know where you’re going or where everybody else is going. I’m on the bus unless they don’t want me. Kathy (Beauregard, athletic director)? If 13-1 gets you fired around here ...”

Even in defeat — the only defeat of the year for the Broncos — Fleck maintained his sense of humor. He then turned serious.

“I love where I’m at, period,” Fleck said. “It’s as simple as that.

“We’re headed back to Kalamazoo.”

Fleck, 36, wrapped up his fourth season as Western Michigan’s coach, and got this year’s team to 13-0 before Monday’s loss.

It’s ranked 12th in the Associated Press, 14th in the coaches poll and 15th in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

That’s why there had been buzz about a Power Five school swooping in and taking him.

WMU's P.J. Fleck might be fit at Minnesota

Fleck, though, has made it clear to his players that he plans to stay for 2017 and possibly beyond, and Fleck and Western Michigan are close on a contract extension, as first reported by The News last month. The extension could double his salary — currently $800,000 before bonuses — and add years on to his current deal, which runs through 2020.

The deal has not been finalized, however.

It was expected to be done by the Cotton Bowl, but Fleck’s contracts can be tricky, because he’s compensated so much more than his Mid-American Conference peers — thanks to Kalamazoo donors and businesses that pay the bulk of his salary.

There was a report early Monday by 247Sports that Minnesota could come after Fleck should it decide to fire Tracy Claeys during their expected meeting today. Claeys just finished his second year, and first full season, as Minnesota’s coach, taking over for Jerry Kill.

Other jobs still could open up, too, should any of the NFL teams with an opening decide to take a big-named coach from a big-time school.

Fleck is only interested in Power Five jobs, and ones that are the right fit. There wasn’t a fit with Purdue (his call) or Oregon (Oregon’s call).

Beauregard has confirmed contract talks are ongoing between the university and Fleck.

Crowd scene

Cotton Bowl officials were worried about Monday’s attendance. Some didn’t expect there to be more than 30,000 or 35,000 people in the stands at AT&T Stadium, which seats a cool 80,000, and can hold over 100,000 with standing room.

But the attendance was announced at 59,615, and that seemed pretty accurate.

Most of the lower two bowls were filled with fans, and there were even thousands of fans in the upper reaches of the stadium.

Neither Wisconsin nor Western Michigan sold out its allotment of tickets, but both filled their half a stadium nicely. The Broncos probably had more fans, but not by too much.

“Can’t thank them enough,” senior quarterback Zach Terrell said. “Their support all season has been tremendous, making their way all the way down to Dallas.

“What a tremendous sight. It’s starting to become what you do in Kalamazoo, support the football team and show up.”

Still, the attendance was easily the lowest for the Cotton Bowl since it moved to AT&T Stadium, starting with the January 2010 game. The previous low was Jan. 1, 2015, when 71,464 showed up to watch Michigan State rally to knock off Baylor. Last year, when the game was a national semifinal between Michigan State and Alabama, 82,812 were in attendance.

The locals took advantage of cheap tickets on StubHub, it appeared. Tickets in the far reaches could still be had for as low as $6 on the morning of game day.

ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported the median price for a Cotton Bowl ticket paid on StubHub was $39, compared to $345 for the Rose Bowl, $126 for the Sugar Bowl and $120 for the Outback Bowl.

Extra points

Terrell was sacked twice, not bad considering the pressure he was under all day. He used his legs to escape trouble on several occasions, keeping some drives alive.

“He had a great feel in the pocket, and I think we underestimated that a little bit,” Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We knew he was athletic, but the pressures didn’t seem to be; they were working, but we just weren’t getting him down.”

Watt, a junior, had a sack in what might’ve been his last college game. He said he hasn’t made up his mind on the NFL, but the younger brother of J.J. Watt seems likely to leave.

... Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon said Western Michigan proved a tougher team than the one the Badgers watched on film leading up to the game. Still, the Badgers held the Broncos to a season-low 16 points. The previous low was 22 in the season-opening victory over Northwestern.

... The teams finished 10 seconds apart in time of possession, fitting considering they both were in the top four nationally coming into the game.

... The MAC finished 0-6 in bowl games, though five of the losses were by a single possession.

... Teams from Michigan — Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Michigan — finished 0-4 in bowl games. @tonypaul1984