Bruiser Flint has taken Drexel to back-to-back appearances in the NIT.

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It was March of 1997 and the University of Massachusetts had just been beaten soundly in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. The speculation was that the loss would probably send the Minutemen to the NIT. But it was hard to surmise that in the aftermath.

After the winning coach provided a less than courteous brush off, it was time to make the long journey back from Philadelphia, but on the way to the exit the man with the smile turned the corner. For the next twenty minutes the man was all smiles, talking about the game, his little girl, wife and his own snappy attire. But anyone who knows James Flint will tell that it’s just another “Bruiser” tale.

It’s been nearly eight years since his rookie campaign as a head coach at UMass, but aside from changing his coaching residence, little has changed. When you run into Flint three things are certain. One, you can always count on a big smile. Two, he will always say, “I can’t complain.” And lastly, you are sure to get a good story about his coaching mentor, John Calipari.

“Cal thinks he taught me everything I know about coaching,” laughs Flint. “That’s not true, but it is true that he has learned a lot about clothing and style from me.”

It’s unclear who is helping who more, but it’s clear that Calipari’s track record helped lay a path for Flint’s future success as a head coach. But Flint’s coaching career didn’t begin in Amherst, MA.

After earning All Atlantic 10 honors as a senior in 1987, Flint embarked on his coaching career as an assistant to Ron “Fang” Mitchell at Coppin State. Flint would spend two years learning the inner workings of division I coaching. “He gave me my first shot,” says Flint. “I was fortunate that he gave me an opportunity to come and work with him. I learned a lot from Fang.”

Mitchell remembers thinking that Flint had a lot of promise. And according to Mitchell, Flint was literally aboard for the ride. “I had to cart him all over Philly,” laughs Fang. “He didn’t have a car so I had to drive him everywhere. I am just glad he went to have success because now he can afford his own car.”

While Flint and Mitchell were cruising around Philadelphia, John Calipari was completing his first season at UMass. The Minutemen finished 10-18, but it was clear to see that Calipari had the program headed in the right direction. It was a direction that Flint liked.

“Cal was building something at UMass and I thought it would be a great opportunity,” says Flint. “Once I got there and saw the direction, I knew we could do some great things there. It was going to take a little time, but we could really do some big things.”

In the next seven seasons the Minutemen appeared in the postseason seven times (two NIT and five NCAA bids), including three Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights and one trip to the Final Four. Mitchell may have driven Flint around, but Calipari took him on a ride to a head coaching position. But unfortunately Flint would become a victim of the success that he was a part of.

In five seasons Flint racked up some impressive credentials.

- Winningest first-year coach in UMass history (19 wins)

- Fastest Coach in UMass History to reach 30 wins

- Fastest Coach in UMass History to reach 40 wins

- Second Fastest Coach in UMass History to reach 50 wins

- Third winningest coach in the 93-year history of UMass basketball (86 wins)

But despite his impressive accomplishments, the UMass brass showed him the door in the spring of 2001. His removal was a disgrace. It was yet another in a long line of coaching dismissals that was made for the sake of making a change. But in typical Flint fashion, Bruiser never expressed any ill-harbored feelings. A lot of coaching say one thing in the pressroom and tell a different tale in private, but that’s not the case with Flint. Instead he viewed the ride at UMass as being a gas tank, half full and not half empty.

“It just didn’t work out,” says Flint. “I spent twelve years at UMass and I enjoyed everyone one of them. They gave me an opportunity to become a head coach. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Some were still surprised that UMass did in fact dismiss Flint, despite the rumors. But many thought that Flint would have a difficult time finding another head coaching job because UMass had failed to make the NCAA tournament in each of his final three seasons. It was a fact that didn’t bother Drexel athletic director Eric Zillmer at all.

Prior to Drexel’s appearance in the 2001 Pepsi Marist Classic (Poughkeepsie, NY), Zillmer spoke at length about how happy he was that Flint had become available as a head coach. According to Zillmer, he knew within minutes of his initial interview with Flint that he was the man for the job. He left Philly as a wet-behind the ears assistant and was returning as a well-seasoned head coach. It was a perfect fit.

“Having a chance to get back to Philly was great,” says Flint. “I was really excited about the opportunity to come home, but I was more excited about the commitment. They made every possible effort to further promote the program. Coach Cal always says that coaches don’t win championships, administrations win championships.”

The visibility was a far cry from the foggy atmosphere in Amherst. In his final two seasons, little was done to put a positive spin on UMass basketball with Flint at the helm. Ironically, Drexel’s new program has faired better over the past three years than his previous place of employment.

Flint has proved himself to be both an excellent recruiter and coach, but the key to his success is Flint the person. There is no hidden agenda and no bowl of sour grapes. With Flint you can always count on those three things. You’ll get a big smile, a typical “I can’t complain” response and a good story about Coach Cal or possibly Fang Mitchell.

“He gave me a couple of rides,” laughs Flint. “He didn’t drive me all over Philly. His memory is playing tricks on him.”

And you can add a fourth certainty. Today he is driving around Philly on his own in a very nice automobile.


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