After a pair of seasons in Rogers Park as Assistant Men’s Soccer Coach and Recruiting Coordinator at Loyola Chicago, Pat Flinn returned to University of Chicago replacing Mike Babst, who departed for Davidson earlier this year.
Flinn previously spent three seasons as an assistant coach for the Maroons from 2014 to 2016 as they compiled a record of 41-12-7 that included two University Athletic Association (UAA) titles and three trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Second City Soccer caught up with Flinn to get his thoughts on returning to Hyde Park and what his vision is for the team moving forward.
What have the first two weeks been like back on the job at University of Chicago?
“It’s been great. It’s been interesting just coming back to a place that I was very familiar with obviously in a different capacity now but it’s been about as seamless, I guess, as a transition into a new job could be, I know the team really well. The guys that will be seniors next year were freshman in my last year as an assistant here and then I helped recruit the guys that will be juniors next year and I’m really good friends with Mike [Babst], the head coach that just left and Spencer [Lewis], the assistant that was going with him, so I’ve continued to watch the team and kind of stay in touch with the team so it’s been really pleasant coming back and being around a lot of people that I got to know and that I have a lot of really great memories from my first experience here. I guess the only negative, since I started two weeks ago, is that one of our leaders, should be a captain next year potentially tore his ACL this past weekend so just processing that but other than that it’s been awesome.”
Of course taking over for Mike Babst, what are some of the biggest lessons you took away from working under him?
“I think he really understood the student-athlete here and understood the mission of the school. In that way, (he) was always successful positioning their soccer experience in a way that it could just elevate their overall experience here and I think that’s really important. Obviously it’s a really challenging school and it’s rigorous, and the types of kids that come in here are really ambitious off the field, so I think kind of finding the right tone and a balance between the two that inspires them to really care about their soccer experience is really important and I think he did a great job of that while he was here.”
Walking into a team that has been so successful, does that change the way you approach coming as opposed to a team that’s rebuilding or coming off a string of bad seasons? Do you feel like you can get a sense of the culture then make changes or do you try to continue what he did?
“No, I don’t think it really changes anything because regardless of the environment I’m in, whether the team has been good, average, bad, underperforming, over performing, I think the goal is just to get better every day. Regardless of where you’re at when you start, I think the goal is the same and the approach is the same in terms of just identifying exactly where you’re at and try to figure out what’s the next layer to add, to try and grow things and try and improve. So, I think in that regard it’s no different than if you were taking over a team that was struggling. It may be a little more difficult to identify what the next layer is but the challenge is the same.”
What was your message to them and what was like getting to talk to them now back at the school and get to meet with them individually?
“The first point I wanted to get across was just how excited I was and how appreciative I was of the opportunity not just to become a head coach, but to be a head coach here. I wanted them to understand how positive my experience was here as an assistant and how excited I was, specifically, to coach here and not just move forward in general in my career. Then beyond that, back to your prior question, the main message to the team was just the goal is to get better: ‘I know we’ve been good, I know you guys have been successful but the goal is to get better.’ It’s not to maintain or try not to get worse. It’s to get better. That’s the goal.”
Having been here as an assistant coach, how much did it mean to get this job specifically?
“It’s like a dream come true, I guess would be the best way to describe it. It checks every box. When I started coaching, this is ultimately where I wanted to get, was to be a head coach at a university that could attract talented student athletes so, in a very general sense, it clearly checks that box. Having been here already, I think this is an ideal place to start with your first role because I’ve kind of had three years of learning the culture and how things operate here, the league that we play in and all of that stuff. Then for personal reasons, to move forward as a coach without having to move your family is not necessarily the standard, so that was a great thing. So yeah, personally, professionally it was like the perfect place to start as a head coach.”
How did the couple seasons you spent at Loyola and FC United prepare you for this opportunity?
“I believe in the 10,000 hour rule, not specifically 10,000 hours, but just every chance I’ve had to go out and coach regardless of what the environment is or what the age of the players are. I think it’s just like an opportunity for me to learn and to get better, so I attribute a lot of who I am and the success to coaching tons of club soccer and just being out of the field constantly. Then at Loyola, I thought it was a great experience in that at Chicago it had almost become a comfort zone. I was really good friends with Mike, things were going really well here. The last year that I was here we finished the season undefeated and ranked as the No. 1 team in the country. So, to go to Loyola, where I think you’re a little bit less of an outlier relative to your competition in terms of the players you can attract, was a nice new challenge.”
Recruiting-wise, do you hope to just focus on Chicago kids or do you like reaching out into other areas as well?
“No, it’s definitely not. It’s a unique academic niche that we are in. I think our acceptance rate last year was below 6 percent, so I think if you look at the roster it’s like if we have 27 guys on the team, we might (have) 24 different states represented. There’s a guy from Portugal, we have an English kid, so at Loyola you maybe wanted to have a complete understanding of the region and the best players within the region. At Chicago you have to know just the guys that fit the academic profile here and it’s not specific to a region so you just start to get familiar with maybe certain clubs or certain parts of the country where there are very good players that also come from rigorous academic backgrounds that are looking for this type of college experience. But it’s probably more of a broader geographical search even if it’s a narrower player pool than Loyola.”