No coach in college football became more synonymous with a phrase than P.J. Fleck did with “Row the Boat.”
That, coupled with Fleck’s 13-1 season at Western Michigan, turned him into one of the top coaching candidates in the country.
When Minnesota announced its hiring of Fleck on Friday, the #RowTheBoat tweets were out in full force. And with over 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, Fleck’s signature catchphrase makes even more sense.
But before Fleck can do any rowing in the Twin Cities, he’ll have to work through some legal complications.
Western Michigan trademarked the phrase “Row the Boat,” which complicates things after Fleck accepted the Minnesota job. The phrase can be found all over the Western Michigan facility.
Upon Fleck’s departure, WMU athletic director Kathy Beauregard addressed that issue. She maintained that while the university owns the rights to those three words, it’s uncertain what those talks will consist of going forward.
The Row the Boat phrase came to be as a result of Fleck and his first wife losing their son, Colt, to a heart condition shortly after his birth.
Fleck explained its meaning of perseverance in this interview:
Beauregard also pointed out that the phrase’s origin could create a human element to those negotiations.
“We knew that was really and honestly a very personal issue for coach Fleck when he started that and what that meant,” Beauregard said on Friday. “So I know that and we certainly know that. However, I know there are some terms of the legal contracts that were put together that we haven’t even begun to go through yet to see what that is.”
In other words, don’t expect to see Minnesota throw the phrase around yet. Frankly, you might not even see Fleck say it at his introductory press conference at 2:45 p.m. CT.
So what does that mean for the future of Row the Boat?
“Honestly, I’m not exactly sure where we’re going to go, it’s not like we want to stand in the way but we also need to make sure that we’re handling it the way it needs to be handled,” she said.
Fortunately for Fleck, if it is an issue that the two parties can’t settle an agreement on, he isn’t lacking in the creativity department.