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Western Michigan program a model for RedHawks

Going Long with Geisler

By Andrew Geisler, For The Miami Student

The Miami University football team fell to 2-8 this weekend, losing 41-10 to an ascendant Western Michigan University squad that found itself in the same position the RedHawks are in now just a year ago.

Western Michigan is 6-3 this season. The Broncos are second in the MAC West, and their only conference loss came in overtime against the University of Toledo, who is undefeated in conference. Last year, in their first season under coach P.J. Fleck, Western went 1-11 after firing longtime coach Bill Cubit.

There's something exceedingly corny, yet clearly excellent, about Fleck, who is the youngest head coach in college football at just 33-years-old.

This solid combination of corny and great has Western Michigan's football program rolling smoothly through the waters of the 2014 college football season.

The ship of state is a popular, if overused metaphor in politics, but what about the ship of a football program? That's the guiding metaphor for Fleck's leadership in Kalamazoo. Fleck calls "Row The Boat," the method for how his whole program will fit together. Here's how he explains it:

"It's very simple when you break it down. There are three parts to rowing the boat. There is the oar, which is the energy behind rowing the boat. There is boat, which is the actual sacrifice, either our team or the administration or the boosters or the audience or whoever is willing to sacrifice for this program. There is also the compass. Every single person that comes in contact with our football program, fans or not, they are all going for one common goal and that is success."

Fleck is all in on his "Row The Boat" philosophy. The guy has the letters R-T-B printed on the back of his quarter zip on the sideline.

That level of dedication to his message might be why in a "Grantland" piece on the nation's youngest head coach last year, Holly Anderson wrote, "In an alternate universe, he might be a televangelist."

In this universe, he's a heck of a football coach, and one who coaches with his hair on fire. This was evident this Saturday in Oxford.

The man is a whirling dervish on the sideline, and his team came out hyped. They looked excited to have the opportunity to play a football game.

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They made their intentions to win clear, taking it to the RedHawks on the ground, running the ball 47 times for 282 yards.

The Redhawks looked the exact opposite - more like they were bearing another tough Saturday afternoon before very few fans.

It's hard to play in the kind of environment Yager Stadium has provided the 'Hawks this year, but simply playing football on a crisp autumn afternoon should be motivation enough to play with passion.

Despite the embarrassment Saturday, this season itself has not been embarrassing, especially when you compare it to last year.

But, if Saturday did draw you to despair, consider this: last year, at least seven of Western's 11 losses were clear blowouts.

Saturday was just the second time Miami has been blown out this year. Making this kind of point appears to be apologizing for losing - that's certainly not what I'm doing. What I am saying is staying in games indicates the possibility of a culture change.

And a culture change is the first and most important change for a losing team. If you don't believe me, take it from the greatest football coach of all time, Bill Walsh.

"The culture precedes positive results. It doesn't get tacked on as an afterthought on your way to the victory stand. Champions behave like champions before they're champions; they have a winning standard of performance before they are winners," Walsh wrote in his book, "The Score Takes Care of Itself."

College football is the most fluid of our nation's favorite sports. Bad coaches leave, a good coach comes in, and the ship (there's that row boat again) is righted pretty quickly.

That means what's happening in Kalamazoo this year could certainly happen next year in Oxford. Especially if Chuck Martin's first recruiting class buys into his recruiting promise that he will "kick your ass every day."

The signs of a culture change are in place. Let's just hope there are enough guys interested in learning to be tough playing the greatest of our games to allow for a RedHawk football turnaround next season.

But let's not look ahead too early. This year's team must finish their final two games strong. Winning two games is better than zero, but it would feel great to come away with three or even four wins? Plus, there would be no greater signal of a changed culture than a home win against Ohio University to close out the season.

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