It's a distinguished list. Atomic bombs made it. So did the American Revolution. Pirates have shown up, and so did a tribute to Rocky Balboa, complete with makeup to look like a black eye. 

Last week, it was a diamond. 

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck has earned a reputation as a master motivator, and when he's addressing his team, that often means drawing on events, concepts and people far removed from football. 

"I never do the same thing twice," Fleck told Sports on Earth. 

But the speech that turned around his program wasn't elaborate. It didn't take the research Fleck spends during the week gauging his team's mood and needs and finding a message to match. 

It was seven words. 

The Broncos trailed 31-14 at halftime against Ball State back in 2014 after giving up 24 second-quarter points. After the first-time head coach went 1-11 in his first season, Western Michigan was just 2-3 in Year 2, well on its way to 2-4. 

"When are you tired of being average?" Fleck told his team. 

He turned and left the locker room. 

The Broncos rallied, beating the Cardinals 42-38. The comeback ignited a five-game winning streak on the way to the program's fifth bowl game ever. Fleck earned MAC coach of the year honors. 

"Ever since that game," Fleck said, "our program hasn't been the same." 

It wasn't magic. It was one of the lowest moments of Fleck's tenure in Kalamazoo that forced program leaders like quarterback Zach Terrell and receiver Corey Davis -- a pass-catch combo of four-year starters and the core of Fleck's program -- to take the reins. 

Or, as the bedrock of Fleck's program puts it: Row the boat. 

Two years later, the 9-0 Broncos have rowed their way to the front of the pack among Group of Five programs jockeying for a New Year's Six bowl bid. Fleck's name will show up on nearly every short list for big-time programs hiring a new coach after the season. 

Terrell has gone from a freshman splitting time with eight touchdowns and eight picks to a fifth-year senior marksman who's thrown 23 scores and one pick in nine games with 14 of the TDs to Davis, who has more touchdown catches than all but one FBS receiver.

On Tuesday night, Western Michigan will take on Kent State as alternate Election Night programming as it continues its bid for an undefeated season. A win would assure Fleck one thing: He's overseen both the worst and best seasons in school history, all in a four-year window. Before he arrived, the program had never lost 11 games or won 10. The Broncos already beat Northwestern on the road to begin the season and routed Illinois 34-10 in Champaign in Week 3, and they were ranked 23rd in the first College Football Playoff top 25.

Fleck often refers to himself as the "King of the Toos" to explain how he reached this point. When he was playing, that meant "too short" and "too slow." As a 32-year-old first-time head coach three years ago, he was "too young" and "too inexperienced" to be any good. 

"I had to be able to find advantages in other ways," Fleck said. "Somehow. Some way. I had to be able to work harder to serve my football team. I had to be able to do certain things other people couldn't do. I might not have been 6-4 and ran a 4.5 40, but what I could do is outwork anybody. I could play harder. I could play longer. I could serve my team that way." 

The energy and message are resonating on the recruiting trail, too. The Broncos have had the top-ranked class in the MAC every season since 2014, and 247 Sports ranks WMU's current class of 2017 commits 50th nationally. 

It's all working, and Fleck is forging his own path along the way. In the SEC, program after program looks to Nick Saban's disciples to try to duplicate what he's built in Tuscaloosa. In the Pac-12, programs have chased USC's historic success under Pete Carroll as the branches of his coaching tree have snapped one by one. 

Fleck's a disciple of his own path, piecing together slices of his bosses along the way and making something new. It was then-San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan who cut his second-year receiver and offered him a job on the same day, something he'd never done before. 

"I said, 'What would I do?' He said, 'I don't know, I don't have a job for you.' I just have to make one,'" Fleck said. 

Fleck didn't take that offer, but he landed on Jim Tressel's staff at Ohio State as a graduate assistant in 2006.

If you're wondering why Fleck is one of the few college coaches to sport a tie on game days, Tressel and Nolan are the answer. Fleck credits Nolan for teaching him class. As the walls caved in on his NFL career, Fleck was ready to take his tie to the classroom and teach sixth grade social studies. Nolan wouldn't let him. He saw Fleck's passion for teaching and trying to impact lives and asked him the people who had the most impact on his life. The names he rattled off were his coaches. 

"If you ask me some of my teachers in the past, I probably can't remember all of them," Fleck said, "but I can remember all my coaches."

Tressel tutored him in poise. How to believe in the face of long odds? That was his college coach at Northern Illinois, Joe Novak.  

"He gave me my only scholarship, then gave me my first full-time job [in 2007]" Fleck said. "He's the one who actually believed in me and saw something that others couldn't see."

The desire and ability to deeply care for everyone in his program, from his players to support staff? That came from Jerry Kill, who kept Fleck on staff at NIU after Novak retired following the 2007 season. He was one of just two assistants Kill retained. Fleck spent two more seasons with the Huskies before moving on to coach receivers under Greg Schiano at Rutgers and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's where Fleck learned to demand more from himself and others than either thought possible. 

But the relentless positivity? That's Fleck.

The program's mantra, "Row The Boat" came in 2011 when Fleck's newborn son Colt --- one of five children -- died of a heart condition. At that point, he was still a position coach at Rutgers. 

"I thought, if I ever become a head coach, I'm going to have a saying and a slogan that's really going to represent never giving up, that everybody in the community can rally behind, even if we're not winning, even if they don't like football," Fleck said. "It gives me an opportunity to live Colt's life for him every single day and be able to serve and give through his name and through a mantra we believe in as a family." 

He wrote several down and considered them, trying to find one that matched what he wanted to express and celebrate. He landed on "Row The Boat," which has taken on a life of its own. Oars are prominently featured on the Broncos' uniforms. Earlier this year, WMU fans could receive a bobblehead featuring Fleck. Rowing a boat, of course. 

The boundless energy? He's channeled it from driving his parents crazy to powering a college football program. As a kid, he plugged that energy into any activity his parents could sign him up for, from football, baseball and soccer to gymnastics or pottery. 

"Once you discover your purpose in life, you can direct all your energy toward it," Fleck said. "And my purpose is serving and giving, teach, educating, communicating. Stimulating. That's the way I direct my energy."  

He wore cleats to practice for the first three years at Western Michigan to aid in teaching, but this year, left them behind after preseason camp. 

The thick, binder of around 150-200 terms and definitions called "Bronconese?" That's Fleck, too, stamping his personality on the first program he could call his own. By now, his team speaks it fluently. There are words and catchphrases, and with each one comes a definition.

"Change your best," a self-explanatory phrase that demands players stretch their limits. 

"Farmer's alliance," or selflessness that's explained by an extended agricultural metaphor in the Bronconese binder.  

"Change," which at WMU, means "truthful listening."

"Heartwork," which is hard work with "pride, purpose and passion" sprinkled throughout.

"Hungry dog," which always finds a way.  

The mantra for the 2014 team was "W2F," or worst to first. It didn't happen in Year 3, but in Year 4, the Broncos are zeroed in on a MAC title and Cotton Bowl bid. 

This year's team, Fleck says, has been fueled by maturity, but as he defines it. 

"We define maturity as when doing what you have to do, becomes doing what you want to do. That's how we grow. That's this football team. Mature," Fleck said, "and that's the biggest difference we have compared to the last three years. They can't wait to do the work and they want to be around each other. That's special." 

That shouldn't be a surprise. Nine of 11 starters on offense are upperclassmen. Eight of 11 defensive starters are upperclassmen. Fleck's imprint is well worn on all of them, and they've been tested. The 1-11 season in 2013 assured that. 

"Everybody wanted to throw me out of the boat, sink the boat, put holes in the boat, and I don't blame them," Fleck said. "That's the time you should be rowing the hardest and rowing the best. I want our players and staff to keep their oar in the water and keep rowing. If you stop rowing, you're going to stay in the storm a lot longer. But if you do row and you continue to row, you're going to get to where you want to go eventually. It's a lot easier to row when it's going great, but it should be easier to row when it's hard, because of your belief system." 

Fleck is 2/3 football coach and 1/3 motivational speaker. At 1-11, extended nautical metaphors become punchlines, but at 9-0, nobody's laughing anymore. 

They're hiring.