It’s a warm sunny day in April – the first sunny day in nearly a week. The temperature has risen above 60. The New England winter chill appears to be gone.
The sun is shining bright on the University of Rhode Island campus.
Meade Stadium, the multi-million dollar home of the URI football team, is empty. There is no spring practice or Blue & White scrimmage. There are no recruits soaking in the campus, interacting with current players and visualizing what it would be like to play in front of 6,000 plus fans on a new turf field showcased under the glare of new lights.
Mike Flanagan isn’t monitoring the potential recruits, making sure they are enjoying their visit to URI. He isn’t taking the recruit for a drive by the beach, followed by dinner with an ocean view, which he knows could potentially seal the deal.
On this April day, it might as well be frigid and snowing in Kingston.
The campus is a ghost down. On this spectacular spring day, Flanagan is miles away from Meade. He is inside his East Greenwich home participating in day-long virtual meetings discussing potential recruits and the future of URI football with the rest of the Rhody staff – not exactly how Flanagan expected to start his new position as URI’s Associate Head Football Coach.
But the unprecedented Coronavrius pandemic has quarantined the entire country. With no other choice, Flanagan has accepted the challenge of this new way of life, the latest challenge in his coaching career.
“It’s tough for everyone,” said Flanagan.
He has always been challenged – this time, it’s just little different than the challenges he has faced in the past. This time, the challenge comes off the field.
“Not being around the players is definitely hard,” said Flanagan. “It’s a learning experience. Not being able to visit with the high school coaches and learn more about their programs is difficult. There’s so much history at different schools across the country. We’re doing what we can to stay connected to the players and with each other. It’s hard, but we will get through it.”
At just 28, he is one of the youngest associate head coaches around. A graduate of Bishop Hendricken, he was an All-State running back for the Hawks. Flanagan went on to play at St. Anselm and after graduating in 2014, he began working in the corporate world at Washington Trust Bank. He wore a shirt and tie and sat behind a desk. It didn’t last long. Less than a year. When his former coach, Keith Croft, called him and asked if he wanted to join the staff at Hendricken, Flanagan traded his tie for a whistle and headed back to his alma mater.
He coached the running backs and helped the Hawks win the state title. A year later, he was at Meade Stadium serving as a volunteer coach with the Rams. He didn’t get paid, but his hard work paid off. He has served in a variety of capacities on the Rams staff and in just five short years, he sprinted up the ladder going from serving as a volunteer to a top position as associate head coach.
“I am so proud of Mike,” said Croft. ‘He was one of my favorite players to coach. He got the most out of his ability in high school and college. Not to say he wasn’t talented, as he will go down as one of the most accomplished in Hendricken history. But he worked himself into a player. Mike has paid his dues and worked his way up the (coaching) ladder. I have no doubt he will be a college head coach some day.”
It was Flanagan’s diligence and work ethic that impressed URI head coach Jim Fleming from the very beginning.
“Flan came in as a volunteer with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and worked at a very high level,” said Fleming. “He worked his way into the tight end coach and then recruiting coordinator. He has been a very diligent, detailed and organized worker who has produced a lot for us here at URI.”
Fleming said elevating Flanagan to associate head coach was crucial to the growth of the URI program.
“I’ve got a young guy doing a great job. I thought it would legit benefit our football program. He’s got a heavy duty connection with admissions, works well with our administration and does a lot of those things that need a couple hits on him. When we talk about budget I want him in there. When we talk recruiting strategies, I like to have a lesser group before I go to full staff. Flan is a good sounding board for me and capable of handling a number of different tasks and handles them at a high level. That’s why I elevated him. It’s recognition of the work he has done and also helps him get some exposure in his profession.
“He’s a sincere, hardworking person who develops relationships really quickly. He has high aspirations for the University of Rhode Island and high aspirations for his own career,” said Fleming. “There are guys out there that get the job done before they are asked. Flan is that guy.“
In his new role, Flanagan is looking to learn more about the administrative side of the game – something that he knows will go a long way in his long-term goal of becoming a head college football coach
He is also focused on doing whatever it takes to move URI forward. It is no secret that the program has struggled. The Rams were 2-10 overall, winless in conference play.
“The big thing about this program whether or not it translates into wins and losses, is that it has come a real long way under Coach Fleming. The biggest thing is the players who have come into the program and how hard they have worked for everything,” said Flanagan. “The goal is continuing to develop each piece of this program. Brick by brick. It takes a lot to turn around the whole program…especially after how long it had been down for and the negativity of the past.”
Flanagan focuses on the progress, each positive layer of the brick that will one day build a complete, successful program.
“We’ve been able to put three players in the NFL Combine this past year and the winning season two seasons ago really created a lot of buzz. So I think we’ve gotten to a place where we have everything and are starting to put the pieces in place. It takes a long time to build,” said Flanagan. “We’ve done a good job rebuilding the brand and people are starting to realize the potential here. We have laid the foundation of where we are going and now we have to take the big steps to get there in a short amount of time. They are right there for us and really obtainable.”