BATON ROUGE – There’s a song in the Broadway musical “Rent” that opens:
“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
"Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear … How do you measure, Measure a year?
“In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee? In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife? In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in a life?”
This Sunday we will celebrate 20 years in the life of Fran Flory as the LSU head volleyball coach. There will be a bobblehead of Fran to add to everyone’s collection and frankly this bobblehead looks ready to grab that green card and make a challenge.
SO … how do you measure a year in the life of a coach like Fran Flory? It may well be in daylights and sunsets you don’t see because you are in the gym with your team and sucking on cups of coffee as the practice and scouting video drones on the screen. There are the miles of recruiting traveled and the inches that determines success or failure in getting recruits.
And, while there has been some strife in Fran’s life over her years, the smile on her face and the love she shows for her players is what makes this a pretty special weekend. Maybe that’s a small part of how you measure 20 years at LSU.
I admit with little reservation I’m a volleyball fan and I’m a Fran Flory fan. I’m excited and pleased that fans of LSU have found volleyball all over again. Crowds have been good and obnoxiously loud. But something is different. They are staying and cheering and helping the team all throughout the match instead of a couple of sets before checking out.
(Luster’s one word to describe Flory) “Loyalty. Her loyalty to me and to LSU … Her dedication to excellence is the other key word. That is why we all love her.”
Tonya Johnson, a former player when Fran was an assistant, former assistant to Flory, now Associate HC at Texas. Her word to describe Fran Flory: “Passionate ... There are so many words that I can use to describe her. The thing that I love most about her is her passion for the game and her passion for the people that she coaches on a daily basis.”
“Fran was a real inspiration to me because I knew that by the time I got to college all I wanted to do was teach and coach. I would just rack her brain from time-to-time. By the time I graduated and left LSU she actually told me that when she got her first big job she would hire me. I thought she was crazy. I was not even thinking coaching college at the time. I was thinking I would coach high school and do my thing. When she was a head coach at Kentucky she called me up and said that she had a position for me … You talk about somebody who is true to her word, always there for you …”
Fran’s rise to the head coaching job at Kentucky was rather meteoric. After leaving LSU to take the head coaching job at Southeastern where she won 21 games her first year, she moved to Lexington as an assistant coach to Kathy DeBoer (now executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association). The school five months later promoted DeBoer to an AD position giving Flory the keys to the car and she drove the Wildcats to 29 wins that first year and regional coach of the year honors.
“Fran was looked at as a rising star in the coaching universe. I had success with hiring younger coaches, having them stay for a couple of years, then having them leave for a head coaching job somewhere. I was attracted to Fran and the idea that she might take a look at this even though she was a head coach already at that point,” DeBoer said.
“When she was a young coach to now there has always been a consistency about her that she knows what she is about and what she is there for. She has never succumbed to the fear … One of the things that I can say with great confidence is that Fran could always ground herself when she had that fear … That means she has had a steady hand with the program at LSU. If you have been places for 20 years, you are going to have bad seasons, that is the reality of it. That is what is so important for a coach to be grounded, that they are a teacher first.”
It speaks volumes of a coach when former players want to return and help coach a program that meant so much to them as a player. Tania Schatow, who was a part of the 2009 SEC Championship team, went overseas to play professionally but has come back to help Fran as the LSU volleyball program's volunteer coach.
“I think it was more about Fran. We talked a lot when I was in Europe. I came back and worked volleyball camp every summer. We would talk every month or every two months when I was in Europe getting caught up on each other's lives, so I don’t think a lot of people do that. When I had the opportunity, when I knew I was not playing anymore, my first thought was I wanted to go back to LSU and work with Fran on the other side of things because I played for her. It’s for her and the program. LSU is one of the best teams I have ever played on in terms of the feeling of a team and how nice it was to play for a program that really cared about the university and winning. It’s hard to find that people fight every day for each other in practice so it was great to comeback.”
If there has been a clone of Fran Flory running around the program during the 20 years it was probably the many years former player Jill Wilson was an assistant coach. They seemed to complete each other’s sentences at times and their ideas about winning volleyball usually always meshed. Now she’s running her own program at Virginia Tech.
“(Fran) is absolutely incredible at developing young women on and off the court. She is a great leader. It is amazing to see the difference when a player enters and leaves the program being prepared for life.”
As I mentioned, Jill may know Fran best of all.
“For the outside people that do not know how much she impacts the athletic department, she is someone that a lot of coaches in the department talk to and she listens to them. She is truly about the whole LSU family.
And while it has been mentioned a couple of times, this woman loves this place. It was her and her volleyball team that was right in the heart of the action as part of the LSU Athletics brigade helping to clean homes after the floods of 2016. Community event? Good chance Fran might be involved.
Having never done it, I admire those that can find the proper balance between family and coaching. I never thought when I first saw young Lindsay running around the floor after matches all those years ago that she would be helping her mom win matches in this 20th season. Deep down, while she can’t really show it, it has to make mom and husband Ken very proud indeed.
I swear I looked down on my desk and my recently arrived Fran Flory bobblehead is giving me the wrap it up signal. Okay I will. That song from “Rent” we mentioned is called “Seasons of Love.” From a lot of former players, coaches and friends – thanks for 20 Seasons of Love at LSU. Thanks for being the friend, the leader, the teacher you are and will continue to be. We will see you Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Maravich Center.