ruiser Flint spent seven years as an assistant coach at UMass. When head coach John Calipari left for the New Jersey Nets, Flint was the natural choice as his successor. And succeed he did; Flint became the winningest first-year coach in UMass history in 1996-97, leading the Minutemen to a 19-14 record and a sixth- straight NCAA appearance.
Last season UMass finished 21-11 and earned an NCAA bid. Flint's achievements didn't go unnoticed -- he was named District I Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). MassLive senior correspondent Robin Deutsch talked with coach Flint about his experiences as a college head coach and the impact Calipari had on his career.
Can you compare your first two seasons as a head coach?
I think I got a little more organized my second year. My first year was really a learning experience, learning how to respond to different things and all the demands on my time. Since then, Iíve learned how to respond better.
There are more demands on my time in my third year. People know who I am more now, but itís not like I canít go out to dinner with my family and eat peacefully. For me, itís all about priorities, and finding a comfort level. You have to have very good time management.
How much influence has John Calipari had on you?
Itís gone beyond coaching, weíre best friends. Our relationship is going to last a lifetime and itís more than just basketball. We talk to each other twice a day. We call each other when we get up in the morning and before we go to bed we probably call one another (laughing). We talk about everything -- money, life, you name it. Iíve learned so much about dealing with the off-court demands from John. Weíre different in a lot of ways, but off-the-court John was very accommodating and gave people a lot of time. I accommodate in a different way, but Iíve learned how to deal with the non-coaching part of the job from him.
People always ask me whatís the biggest difference between John and myself. The difference is more the situation we inherited than personalities. John built the job and made it entertaining; the job became him. I am keeping what he built alive and trying to take it to the next level.
How much is your coaching system similar to his?
Itís very similar. A lot of it has to do with personnel, but as a coach you have to have your own ideas. Iíve learned a lot of basketball from John Calipari; heís one of the best at any level. I think personnel dictates how a team plays a lot of times. As coaches, we should be willing to change to reflect the makeup of the team. My teams walk the ball up the court a little bit more than we did when John was here, but I donít have the same types of players we had during Calís tenure. My teams are bigger and stronger, probably not as fast or as quick as Johnís teams. Weíre much more of a muscle and inside team whereas we used to have a lot of perimeter players and good athletes. We were a lot smaller when John was here.
But the core of UMass basketball is the same. We want to attack, we want to play great half-court defense, we want to pressure our opponents at times, so the philosophy is the same. We want to have an attacking, aggressive offense and we always want to rebound the ball both offensively and defensively. So, when we talk UMass basketball philosophy, no matter who the coach is, weíre going to rebound and weíre going to be an aggressive offensive and defensive team.
Are you still going to play anyone, anywhere, anytime?
We want to take up the challenge against anybody. Thatís never going to change.
How much has college basketball, and more specifically the Atlantic 10, changed from when
you were playing?
When I first started coaching, a lot of the coaches in the Atlantic 10 were the same as when I played. Thatís not the case today.
I remember going to the awards ceremony -- when I played we didnít have an awards dinner like we do now -- and you got your trophy at your team banquet. Weíve come a long way. I remember my All-Conference trophy; it was a piece of wood with ďAtlantic 10Ē on it and the metal piece fell off (laughing). Now, if a team wins the championship, the league hands out extravagant trophys and leather jackets. Where was that stuff when I was coming up?
The Atlantic 10 has really grown as a conference. We sent five teams to the NCAA tournament the last two years. We had seven teams in post-season play last year. When I played, we probably had four good teams that were happy to get into the NCAA or NIT. You have to give a lot of credit to the coaches and to (commissioner) Linda Bruno. I think sheís done a great job of getting us a lot of television coverage with ESPN, ESPN2 and Fox Network New England. Thatís the kind of thing that starts to get people to respect the league. People can see the quality of basketball being played.
What have you learned about Western Massachusetts?
Dress warmer (laughing). Thatís one thing ... these winters are cold! Amherst is a great town. I do miss the city a little bit because city people like myself miss the action, being able to go out and do things in a city atmosphere everyday. But when I go home for long periods of time -- three, four, five days -- I am always ready to come back here because of the peacefulness. I am able to relax and I donít have the strain that goes with city life. I donít miss the stress that goes with city life -- just driving takes a toll on people. Hey, I am already in a stressful business, so I need to be able to relax once in a while. You can do that in Western Massachusetts.
What do you enjoy most about being in a university atmosphere?
The family atmosphere. As a coach, I interact with so many people. As a coach you have a direct effect on a lot of kids -- from managers to the players on your team to your playersí friends. I spend a lot of time with my managers, just talking about things, asking them how theyíre doing in school, how their family is doing. I want them to get the same things from me in terms of helping them with their lives and with going on to become mature young men as I do with my players. A lot of students come to my office to talk with me, one because I am still young, and second, because I look their age! (laughing). I think they believe they can relate to me. The greatest thing about coaching is seeing a kid mature into an adult and becoming successful beyond basketball. You say to yourself, ĎI had a hand in that.í Wins and losses come but you see a kid become a successful adult only once. Thatís the greatest thing about college.