SCHUYLER DIXON, AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck hugged his athletic director while fighting his emotions on his way off the field after a Cotton Bowl loss to Wisconsin that denied the Broncos an undefeated season.
About three hours earlier, the fourth-year coach delivered a fiery speech in the locker room, reminding his players about the people who didn’t think the 12th-ranked Broncos belonged in a New Year’s Six bowl despite their perfect season in the Mid-American Conference.
As the final seconds ticked away in the 24-16 defeat to the No. 8 Badgers on Monday, Fleck gathered his players on the sideline to remind them to lose with pride — his way of pointing out that it had been 14 months since the Broncos had such a feeling.
Fleck was fighting for his program, which is why graduating quarterback Zach Terrell wouldn’t have a problem with his 36-year-old coach getting a shot at a bigger school even if he still had a chance to play for him.
“He’s a guy that’s given nothing but 100 percent to this university and to us players,” said Terrell, who had a nifty 2-yard run for a touchdown and threw an 11-yard scoring pass to standout receiver Corey Davis .
“And for us, nobody can fault him. He’s deserving of all the attention from bigger schools because he’s the best coach in the country and that’s my opinion,” Terrell said.
Fleck’s future is a topic of speculation because Western Michigan is the latest program outside the Power Five conferences to go 13-0 and get a shot in a major bowl. Even if the Broncos hadn’t recovered from an early 14-0 deficit to keep the outcome in doubt until late, the questions would linger.
Minnesota looms as another potential suitor if the Gophers decide not to bring back Tracy Claeys after he supported a player revolt over the school’s handling of a sexual assault case that involved the suspension of 10 players.
“I’m going to Kalamazoo,” Fleck shot back when asked where things stood with other schools pursuing him. “If 13-1 gets you fired around here, you know … I love where I’m at. Period. It’s as simple as that.”
Athletic director Kathy Beauregard said she has not been contacted by another school in recent days, and she expects conversations about an extension for Fleck to intensify now that the season is over. She said the focus has been “100 percent” on the Cotton Bowl.
“He loves Kalamazoo. He loves this football team,” Beauregard said. “There were people four years ago that could have never imagined that we’re standing here today in an opportunity of a lifetime. And we are. As far as what it means for having him a part of it, we hired him to be partners and be a team with us.”
Fleck said showing emotion after the game was nothing new for him. But he did acknowledge the circumstances were somewhat unique.
“What they did and what they accomplished this entire year, the 76 ‘nevers’ to get where they got to, it’s a legacy they’ll leave here,” the coach said. “So, you’re right, I’m emotional because those kids are like my children.”
And his “children” like how he fights for them.
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