Bob Flynn wanted to be The General.
Not Bob Knight. The real kind, Robert E. Lee or George Patton or Norman Schwarzkopf, a leader who inspired his troops, saw to their every need and made each bivouac a lesson about brothers in arms.
"We grew up on Forest Park Avenue, played army in the woods across the street, in Edmondson Heights Park," said Jerry Flynn, Bob's older brother. "Bob knew his military history, lived and breathed the old Combat! TV show."
This being Bob Flynn, a character extraordinaire who coached men's basketball for 23 years at Cardinal Gibbons and three small colleges in Maryland, Mount St. Mary's, St. Mary's and McDaniel, his armies were run in a unique manner.
My troops will enjoy high morale.
Flynn spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach at Mount St. Mary's, his alma mater. Tim Lieber was the program's publicist in the late 1980s, and remembers a shaky drive home from Randolph-Macon.
"I had the flu, and told Bob to pull over to the side of the interstate, because I was going to be sick," Lieber said. "When I got back in the car, the first thing he does is pat me on the shoulder, say, 'So, you want some pancakes?' Even when you felt like crap, Bob could make you laugh."
My troops will have support.
Flynn was a Mount student when Jim Phelan's Division II dynasty played in a drafty hangar. By the time Don Anderson joined the staff in 1989, the Mount had traded that home-court advantage for a modern new arena.
"They had huge crowds at the hangar, but things weren't the same in the new facility," said Anderson, now a UMBC assistant. "Bob would walk into the [college] dining room before a home game and yell announcements, give away tickets and T-shirts. He did that on his own. That's where the Mount Crazies came from."
My troops will be clean.
A generation of players from the Mid-Atlantic knew Flynn not as a college coach, but as a director of summer camps, first at Mount St. Mary's, then Frostburg State. Mothers appreciated a fixation on hygiene that their camper sons found weird.
"Who else would remind kids to wash their hands?" said Joe Hunter, the McDaniel point guard who was a camper under Flynn, then one of his instructors. "Every day, he would point out the dispensers in the restrooms and locker rooms, say, 'This is great soap!'"
My troops will follow me anywhere.
After two years at McDaniel, Hunter was ready to leave the school or basketball, but stuck with both after Flynn landed there in 2005.
One of McDaniel's leading scorers is Brett Foelber, who spent the past two seasons at Randolph-Macon in Virginia, but transferred to play for Flynn. It was not a first for Foelber, who commuted from Sykesville to Gibbons' West Baltimore campus to play for Flynn.
My troops will be respected.
Not good enough to play at the Mount, Flynn was a reserve at Gibbons.
"He was third-string center on a team that played only two," said North Carolina State assistant coach Pete Strickland. "That made him sensitive and aware of those left behind. We all have a little bit of Father Flanagan in us, but Bob had that to a heightened degree. He was a players' coach."
My troops will be prepared for any contingency.
Flynn inherited his ubiquitous red towel from Ray Mullis at Gibbons, had a long apprenticeship under Phelan and ran summer camps for Morgan Wootten, the nation's winningest prep coach. Flynn absorbed the wisdom of their combined 2,700 wins, but never stopped seeking an edge.
In 1994, Flynn moved to St. Mary's and Skip Prosser turned Loyola's improbable NCAA berth into the Xavier job. Flynn drove to Cincinnati to consult Prosser, then led St. Mary's to a record for NCAA wins.
Flynn then returned to his old high school for six years that rejuvenated Gibbons, before taking a flyer on McDaniel. The available talent pointed to zone defense, so Flynn drove to Syracuse to consult Jim Boeheim about his 2-3. Not satisfied, Flynn went to Bucknell last summer to learn the matchup defense used by Pat Flannery.
In early January, poor free-throw shooting held McDaniel back in a pair of Centennial Conference losses. Flynn searched his memory, remembered that Mount rival Fairleigh Dickinson had plays designed to rebound its missed free throws, and called its coach.
"I told Bob that I had mixed emotions," Tom Green said. "I was honored that he wanted to pick my brain, but asked, 'That's what you remember, that one of my teams couldn't shoot free throws?'"
My troops will maintain contact with their loved ones.
Flannery, the Bucknell coach who took a stress-induced leave of absence two seasons ago, remembers little of the X's and O's he discussed with Flynn last summer.
"I have a 10- and a 12-year-old," Flannery said. "We talked as much about our families as we did about basketball. Bob changed me."
There are photos of Flynn posing with Dwight Howard and Rudy Gay, taken when Flynn coached the East team at the 2004 McDonald's All American game, a perk made possible by Wootten.
"Bob wasn't excited because it was going to look good on his resume," N.C. State's Strickland said. "It was, 'Michael and Ryan are going to be ballboys!'"
That would be Flynn's twin 12-year-old sons.
Christmas was more ecstatic than ever, because his daughter Caitlin, 17, had been accepted at McDaniel.
Last September, Flynn took his wife, Tina, to Las Vegas to see an Elton John concert. Once the season began, those excursions wouldn't be possible - Flynn was creating tradition where there had been none.
Touches such as "Flynn's Friends," students wearing T-shirts with that identification, helped jump-start a Centennial Conference program long known for its mediocrity.
After Flynn telephoned Tom Green about missed free throws, the Green Terror beat Muhlenberg on Jan. 11 to improve to 7-6 and bolster hope for the program's first winning record since 1984-85.
The next day, Flynn died of a massive heart attack, at age 49.
Jan. 18 was gray and bitterly cold, perfect to be inside, playing basketball. Mourners bundled up and headed to St. Mark's Catholic Church in Catonsville, where every pew was filled 20 minutes before the funeral.
Tina Flynn, as composed a young widow as you will see, gave a stirring eulogy.
The honorary pallbearers were Foelber, Hunter and their McDaniel College teammates. (Two days later, they beat Gettysburg, beginning what interim coach Kevin Selby described as an "emotional roller coaster." The Green Terror then lost five straight, but Wednesday's upset win at Johns Hopkins was its 10th, the first time since 1998 the program reached that standard.)
After the funeral Mass, the Rev. Christopher Whatley asked coaches and anyone who had played for Flynn to flank his casket as it moved to the hearse.
Tall teenage boys and stooped old men such as Phelan and Wootten lined both sides of the center aisle, out the vestibule and down the St. Mark's steps.
Lee, Patton, Schwarzkopf, Bob Knight, none ever got a greater honor from his troops.
An educational foundation has been established for Flynn's three children. For more information, contact Mike Grace at email@example.com.