Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck took the college football world by storm with his energetic personality and “Row The Boat” mantra at Western Michigan. When he arrived in Kalamazoo, WMU had no bowl victories and a long storied history without much big-time success. Before Fleck left, he led the Broncos to their first-ever bowl win (2015 Bahamas Bowl) and their best season ever (13-1 in 2016).

To Western Michigan, “Rowing the boat” meant, among other things, a commitment to the process of building towards greatness one stroke at a time. But to Fleck the connection was more personal. “Row the boat” was his vision for getting over adversity as he and his family dealt with the loss of their second child. 

“It was something that I had in the back of my mind to say, ‘Hey, no matter what happens, no matter what we’re going to do here, we’re just going to keep rowing. Whatever turns out, however it turns out, we’re just going to keep rowing. Then when it does turn out, good or bad, we’re just going to keep rowing, keep rowing and keep rowing,’” Fleck said in 2013. “So, it was able to, at least, help my method to get through some type of adversity.”

Since his hire, Fleck has been questioned about the future of the “Row The Boat,” officially licensed by WMU while he was there. The personal connection to the phrase was cited by the school as a reason for parting with the ownership of the phrase, and now Fleck is free to use “Row The Boat” as many times and in as many places as he wants. 

“Recent conversations between the University and Fleck’s agent have led to an agreement in which Fleck will legally assume ownership of the phrase and be able to use or transfer it at will,” the school announced Wednesday. “The motivational phrase, as Fleck has noted personally, is one that is highly personal and grew out of the way his family coped with the loss of his infant son.” 

In exchange for the intellectual property, WMU said Fleck will make a yearly endowment of $10,000 to support a football scholarship, the Fleck Family Football Scholarship. WMU also retains the right to use “Row The Boat” for any commemorative memorabilia celebrating the Broncos success during his tenure as head coach (2013-16).