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College football: P.J. Fleck ready for first head coaching job

KanelHigh School graduate new Western Michigan football coach P.J. Fleck hugs athletic director Kathy Beauregard Tuesday Kalamazoo Mich. | Matt

Kaneland High School graduate and new Western Michigan football coach P.J. Fleck hugs athletic director Kathy Beauregard Tuesday in Kalamazoo, Mich. | Matt Gade~AP

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Updated: December 20, 2012 4:43PM

Is he ready?

P.J. Fleck was introduced as the new head football coach at Western Michigan University Tuesday in Kalamazoo. At 32, the Kaneland High School graduate is the youngest head coach in the NCAA FBS Division I ranks, 11 months younger than Matt Campbell of Mid-American Conference rival Toledo. He’s also the first FBS coach to be born in the 1980s.

Is he ready?

Two people who know him well think so.

“I still have a big picture of him and I hugging on the sideline after the (2003) Alabama game hanging on my wall. In fact, I’m looking at it right now. That young man will do wonderful things,” University of Nevada athletic director Cary Groth said.

Fleck, of course, was a 1,000-yard senior receiver on the 2003 team that won seven straight to open the season and vaulted to No. 12 in the national rankings. Groth was NIU’s athletic director.

She’s just one of the people Western Michigan AD Kathy Beauregard contacted during the recent search for Bill Cubit’s successor.

“Kathy Beauregard is a class act and she did well by this hire,” Groth said.

Groth, of course, was the Northern AD who did well with the 1996 hire of football coach Joe Novak. Despite going 3-30 and enduring a 23-game losing streak, he laid the foundation for the Huskie program that has become the dominant team in the MAC West over the past decade.

“He gave me my first, no, make that my only shot at playing Division I football,” Fleck remembered Tuesday as he was thanking people who had helped him reach this point in his career. “His entire staff said, ‘No way,’ but he said ‘Yes.’ And he also gave me my first coaching job.”

The now-retired Novak was watching Fleck’s press conference on his computer via the Internet.

“He’s awesome,” Novak said of the inspirational young coach. “People meet him for the first time are not sure if he’s real, but that’s P.J.”

He then repeated the question of the day.

“Is he ready? You know what, he’s enthusiastic, he’s got great people skills and he’s been around some good people (in his coaching career), guys who have done the job in different ways and that’s what you draw from,” said Novak, who was 51 when Groth gave him his first collegiate head coaching opportunity.

“I know people who are 52 who have none of those skills. (Fleck’s) people skills are off the charts. People are gonna love him, the players and the people in the community.

“And as far as coaching, he’s gonna learn on the run. I did, too. His biggest thing is learning not to worry about everybody liking him. In that profession, you can’t worry about that.”

Fleck probably learned that lesson last February when he accepted the offensive coordinator position under Dave Doeren at his alma mater, only to step away after one day and rejoin Greg Schiano — who he had worked with for two years at Rutgers — at Tampa Bay in the NFL.

It’s been a hectic few days for Fleck, who will finish out the remaining two weeks of the Bucs’ NFL season. His wife, Tracie, gave birth Monday to daughter Paisley, who joins 3-year-old son Carter at home.

“Age never really mattered to me,” Fleck said. “It wasn’t like I had a goal that I was gonna be a head coach by the time I was 31, 30. It was going to be when I was right. I would know when I was ready and I told (his Chicago-based agent) Bryan Harlan I was ready.

“I knew it within myself. I know I can lead men. I know I can run a football program because I’ve been trained by the best.”

Fleck calls himself, “King of the too, t-o-o, too short, too small, too slow, too young, but that’s what fuels me.”

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