Army's Flowers Not Like Most Coaches




This article originally appeared in the Times Herald-Record on May 7, 2009 and was written by Kevin Gleason. 

WEST POINT Ask Jim Flowers about major-college coaches running from job to job, pay raise to pay raise, and watch his round face curl into a frown.

"That really eats at me,'' he says in that Texas drawl of his. "They ought to be in it for the development of people, for the development of the program.''

Don't mistake Flowers' tone for old-school bitterness. He's just one of those jewels who showed he loved coaching Army softball by staying for 19 seasons. That Flowers, 66, lost more than he won (394-492-2) before retiring last month speaks to his impact beyond the standings.

You don't much see the likes of Flowers in the coaching ranks anymore. The Division I merry-go-round runs a steady pace of coaches moving on and administrations sending them along. The process is smeared with hard feelings.

Flowers, though, is big on loyalty and commitment. He got to know his friend Bill Rahl's sister, a Catholic-school girl named Nancy, when she attended her brother's high school in San Antonio during off days from her own school. That was a half a century ago, 46 years of which Nancy and Jim have been married. They have four children.

Jim arrived at West Point in 1971, five years after his Army career began, and wound up witnessing nine superintendents, 17 commandants and seven deans. So Flowers survived two huge obstacles on his way to coaching bliss: the transient environment of both West Point and the Division I coaching ranks.

"He definitely brought a sense of family to the team,'' says former Patriot League player of the year Sheri (Schweiker) Donnelly. She was among more than 20 former players, including all four from his first recruiting class ('94), who returned for Flowers' final game. "A lot of coaches say we are family. I could call coach Flowers any time of the day or evening whatever and he would meet me.''

Flowers brought stability to a program that had six coaches in the 11 seasons before his debut in 1991. His tenure coincided with Army moving to Division I and the Patriot League, and Army made an immediate impact, winning both regular-season and tournament titles and going 30-2 in league games his first two seasons.

He won Patriot League coach of the year both seasons, and won it again in 2002. Flowers took Army to two NCAA tournaments.

Schweiker remembers that first year when coaches inside and outside the program wondered, "Who is this guy?'' Flowers had a bundle of sayings players called them "Flowerisms'' seasoned by his affectionate drawl. And Flowers was, by his admission, a bit of a screamer.

But he wasn't a screamer in the vein of Bob Knight, a former West Point coach. Flowers demonstrated a softness that overshadowed the yelling. Of course, he had a harsher bark his first few years.

"I mellowed somewhat,'' he says. "But I don't think I mellowed a whole lot. I think that style still works.''

Flowers' dad was a welder whose work included school playground equipment and materials for World War II. His mom was a housewife who went to work as a school cafeteria manager to help support Jim's college bills. But he wound up getting a baseball scholarship to Trinity University in San Antonio.

His parents weren't the strictest around. But they gave Jim and his two brothers strict guidelines.

"We did everything all out,'' he says, "or we didn't do it.''

It takes a loyal and dedicated coach to stay at the same place for 19 seasons. And it takes an unselfish coach to know when it's time to stop. Flowers realized two years ago he couldn't demonstrate sliding the only way he knew how, by sliding. He made sure the program had a solid foundation before calling it quits.

Nancy and Jim will get to spend more time with their nine grandchildren, maybe travel a bit. They've bought a home on 61/2 acres in Texas, but will keep their place in Highland Falls.

As his players learned, you certainly can have more than one home and one family.

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