DeKALB – P.J. Fleck was beloved when he was a Northern Illinois receiver from 1999 to 2003.
Fleck, who grew up in nearby Sugar Grove and won two 3A state championships at Kaneland, went on to play two seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, and spent 2007 to 2009 as the Huskies’ receivers coach.
However, Fleck since has become public enemy No. 1 among Huskies fans. In his first year as coach at Western Michigan, Fleck has let his voice be known at the rival MAC West school, with his “Row the Boat” mantra and energetic personality.
Fans also weren’t happy with Fleck’s infamous one-day stint as offensive coordinator in February of 2012.
However, Fleck hasn’t said anything negative about his alma mater since he took the Western Michigan job. As his 1-10 Broncos, listed as 35-point underdogs, take on NIU, a program looking for its second straight Bowl Championship Series bid, Fleck has nothing but praise for the Huskies.
“Northern has been very, very good to me; it holds a special place in my heart,” Fleck said. “It’s a great place, special place that my family and everyone who has been around me truly respects. They’ve done a tremendous job in the last few years. Really excited about going back.”
Fleck is familiar with not only NIU’s program, but the current players, as well. He was NIU’s recruiting coordinator when the current fifth-year seniors were committing to the Huskies.
He could have been running NIU’s offense last season, but after agreeing to become offensive coordinator, Fleck resigned a day later to become the receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The short stint was a surprise to players and coaches.
“He got a better opportunity to go somewhere else, and you can’t blame the guy for doing that,” NIU senior guard Jared Volk said. “He’s a great guy, great coach. We’re looking forward to seeing him again [against] Western Michigan.”
Fleck’s debut season hasn’t gone as he or Broncos fans had hoped.
However, Western Michigan has fought through injuries all season. Fleck said the team is missing a number of starters, including last season’s MAC Freshman of the Year, receiver Jamie Wilson.
Fleck has gotten a number of facility upgrades since he arrived, and Rivals.com ranks the Broncos’ Class of 2014 the top recruiting class in the conference.