HILADELPHIA - Sitting at a small pizza place across the street from Drexel's John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center, Bruiser Flint averaged about three bites of his chicken wrap per "attaboy."
"Congratulations coach," said one patron walking toward the counter.
"You guys look great coach," offers an older woman, who smiles as she passes by. "Keep it up."
Flint had a smile and wave for everyone - students, faculty and fans. It's a pretty good time for the former University of Massachusetts coach who has the best team he's had in his seven seasons at Drexel.
The Dragons (12-2) are a potential NCAA Tournament at-large contender after beating Villanova, Syracuse, Temple and Saint Joseph's in nonconference play. Fans, especially in the University City section of Philadelphia, have noticed.
"It's always fun when you're winning. I thought we could have this type of season," Flint said. "People look at me like I'm crazy, but when you've got these type of players, anything can happen. We beat three teams in the city which has never happened before."
He pauses as two Drexel faculty members stop at his table to congratulate him on beating George Mason, last year's NCAA Tournament Cinderella, and wish him well against the University of North Carolina Wilmington the next day. The Dragons won that game 69-55.
Flint, who starred at Episcopal Academy and Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia, was away from his hometown for 15 years as an assistant coach at Coppin State and then at UMass under John Calipari. When Calipari left to coach the New Jersey Nets, Flint took over the Minutemen in 1996.
Following a legend is difficult and doing it in the wake of questions surrounding Marcus Camby only made it more so. Flint went 86-72 in five seasons at UMass and went to two NCAA Tournaments and one National Invitation Tournament. He had only one losing season.
But Flint and then-athletic director Bob Marcum never saw eye-to-eye on how to make the program successful and that disagreement became very public. Flint was forced to resign after going 15-15 in 2000-01.
"When you're fighting the people that you're supposed to be working for, it's not fun," Flint said. "We got the feeling that they didn't want us to succeed. There were people that didn't want us to do well."
Success at Drexel
Flint didn't stay unemployed for very long. He interviewed at Duquesne and Northeastern before deciding on Drexel.
It's been a good fit. Flint was named the Colonial Athletic Association coach of the year in his first season at Drexel after taking a team that was picked last in the conference to a third-place finish. He followed that with three straight NIT tournaments at a program that only had five previous postseason appearances in its history.
This year the Dragons are in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, and currently have a 10-game winning streak. His coaching style is different than it was in Amherst. His team's play is much more up and down, although Flint still stresses defense.
While Flint said he's mellowed, if last Friday's practice was any indication, he's as intense as ever.
"You get a little older and all that screaming wears you out," he said. "But I still get on them."
Other than maybe lowering his decibels from time to time, he's hidden the aging process pretty well. Unlike assistants Mike Connors and Geoff Arnold, who followed Flint from UMass to Philadelphia and have acquired gray hair along the way, Flint at 41 looks much the same as he did in his mid-30s when he was leading the Minutemen.
"Geoff's beard is all gray," Flint said smiling and then running his hand over his head, drawing attention to his short, but non-thinning, non-graying hair.
Flint has long since made his peace with UMass. Marcum and the other administrators who Flint feuded with are gone. He has a good relationship with the current athletic department and keeps track of how the Minutemen are faring. He joked that he's more popular now in Amherst than he was as the coach.
"When they came down for lacrosse (at the Final Four in May) they invited me down for a big party. It was good to see those guys," Flint said. "They still show me love back in Amherst. I still go back a lot.
"I think now they realize I didn't do too badly when I was up there," Flint added. "It's not that expectations were too high, because you always want high expectations, but you have to be realistic and I think we got away from that and I paid the price."
Flint even made a pledge to the Leaman Legacy Fund, the scholarship program established in honor of Jack Leaman, the former UMass coach and broadcaster who mentored Flint.
"How about that? I always tease (UMass associate athletic director) Tim Kenney. I said 'Y'all fire me then you ask me for money.' You all have a lot of nerve," Flint said laughing. "But they sicced Rita (Leaman, Jack's widow) on me and I can't say no to Rita."
Flint admits in hindsight that being forced out at UMass, which angered him when it happened, turned out to be a blessing. Flint's father James Sr. lost a battle with cancer in 2004. Being back in Philadelphia allowed Flint to see his father almost every day for three years.
"If my dad had gotten sick and I was up in Amherst, I wouldn't have been able to make it," Flint said. "I saw him all the time. He was over for lunch. He traveled on the buses with us to games. He came to every game. It was great.
"When I was going for the job he never said to take Drexel," Flint continued. "I had a couple other positions I was going for, but he brought me back to the airport the last meeting I had at Drexel. You could tell he wasn't going to tell me to take it, but he wanted me to take it.
"It was good. We got to spend a lot of time. I was gone from Philly for 15 years. Then I saw him pretty much every day."
Even without his father, Flint remains connected to his roots. His family and friends from his old southwest Philadelphia neighborhood are regulars at Drexel home games. Flint is glad to be home.
"I love the city. I always have," said Flint, who pulled on a Philadelphia Eagles cap as he finished his lunch. "I love going to the Eagles and Phillies. I live downtown so I can get the feel of the city. I love it."
As he got up to walk out, the feeling appeared to be mutual.
"Good luck this weekend coach," a man called out from a 10-person party in the corner of the restaurant. "We'll be rooting for you."