Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell didn’t buy in right away to what new coach P.J. Fleck was saying in December 2012, but he never considered quitting. Terrell eventually got in the boat and began rowing, like everyone else in Kalamazoo.
“We were both very unimpressed when we first met each other,” Fleck recalled during a Mid-American Conference teleconference today. “Probably looked at me and said, ‘How did you get this job?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘How did you get here?'”
Terrell slowly bought in and became the leader Fleck needed. He has guided the No. 14-ranked Broncos (12-0) to the greatest regular season in school history. The Broncos face Ohio (8-4) in the Mid-American Conference championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at Ford Field. A win would give the Broncos a chance to play in the Cotton Bowl as the Group of Five representative.
Terrell (6-feet-1, 209 pounds) already was at Western Michigan when athletic director Kathy Beauregard hired Fleck in 2012. Terrell heard Fleck’s “Row the Boat” mantra and said he had no idea what it had to do with the Broncos.
“I would be lying to you if I told you I was completely bought-in when he first got here,” Terrell said. “I think he could definitely tell that, in terms of the way I conducted myself and my leadership and the buy-in I brought each and every day. But over time, it’s something I’ve learned a lot about. It’s not a football mantra, it’s a way of life.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing right away. The Broncos went 1-11 in 2013.
“The greatest people and the greatest leaders in this world have failed the most,” Fleck said. “I really believe that. But they respond to their failing differently, and their perspective of their failing has been different than failures that have quit. Big difference. And that’s what you see Zach Terrell being the Zach Terrell he is in the pocket, because of all his failing and his perspective and his response.”
Terrell has completed 71.7% of his passes for 3,086 yards, 30 touchdowns and one interception this season.
“I came in as a boy and, through the culture, the way that Row the Boat works, I’ve become a man,” Terrell said.
Fleck said he told Terrell that he had talent but had to communicate better if he was going to be the future of the program.
“It was from that point forward that Zach was a completely different kid, because he said, ‘Coach, you got me all wrong. That’s not what I am,’” Fleck recalled today.
Fleck told him he could either believe in the culture that was being established or Fleck would help him go somewhere else.
“I’m so glad he made the decision to jump two feet in,” Fleck said. “And that says a lot about him, because I don’t know if I would have jumped two feet in. He had to take a leap of faith, too."