'Back to a positive place': Why Michael Fly relishes his role at Mizzou after leading FGCU
Michael Fly will be a head coach again. Ask anyone around the Missouri basketball program, like head coach Dennis Gates, who hired Fly as his director of scouting and analytics this season.
“There’s no way he should be nothing less than a head coach,” Gates said. “And he will get another opportunity.”
Outside Columbia, check in with the man who gave Fly his on-court assistant job, Andy Enfield, now the head coach at USC.
“I think he’ll get another chance to be a head coach,” Enfield said. “Take all that knowledge and years of experience and keep building on it.”
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Even the man who fired Fly from his last job, Florida Gulf Coast athletic director Ken Kavanagh, said it will happen. Kavanagh would give Fly a glowing recommendation.
“I look forward to him being back on the court as a coach,” Kavanagh said. “Whether that’s as an assistant coach or head coach, and I hope he’ll get another opportunity sooner rather than later.”
For now, Fly, who won 22 games last season at the helm of FGCU, is content in his role. He’s sleeping better than he has in years, and has time to drop his kids off in the mornings, work out, take walks and not spend so many hours on the phone.
Plus, he’s learning, watching Gates build up a program from the studs.
“I’m so thankful to coach Gates because I’m still able to be part of a program,” Fly said. “I’m still able to provide value in different ways, but I’m not in the pressure cooker that I’ve been in for four years.”
'Dedicated and loyal'
Fly got a job at Florida State as a staffer on head coach Leonard Hamilton’s staff and from 2008-2011, he worked long hours, learned all he could and hoped for his next opportunity. That came before the 2011-12 season, when FSU assistant Andy Enfield took the head job at FGCU.
He brought Fly along as an on-court assistant.
Enfield drew enough attention from the run to get his current job, as head coach at Southern California. He tried to take Fly with him, though not for an on-court position.
In Enfield’s second year in charge, FGCU earned a 15-seed in the NCAA tournament, then stormed through Georgetown and San Diego State, becoming the lowest-seeded team to ever reach the Sweet Sixteen.
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“He was a relentless recruiter,” Enfield said. “Had a great eye for talent, evaluations of recruits. He was great with our players and player development was tremendous.”
Kavanagh did his best to keep Fly around, telling head coach prospects that he and a few other staffers had to be retained for at least a year.
Instead, Fly decided to take a risk and stay behind.
“I’m doing you a favor,” Kavanagh recalled telling candidates. “These are people that got us to the Sweet Sixteen. There are people that are very well respected both within our department, around campus and with our donors.”
Joe Dooley got the job. Fly stayed beyond that one season, serving for five years under Dooley, eventually as the top assistant for the Eagles.
Fly became known as an answers man within the FGCU program. He was one of the team’s best recruiters and had built relationships with players, donors and university higher-ups.
He even turned down at least one offer to be an assistant at a high-major program. When Dooley left for East Carolina before the 2018-19 season, Kavanagh felt Fly was the obvious replacement.
“Michael is very dedicated and loyal,” Kavanagh said. “I think he’s someone with a strong work ethic. An individual who’s a people person and in a position where he cares about other folks. Certainly his players, but his fellow staff members that work with him. Whether it’s the athletic training staff, people that were support staff, nobody’s ever complained about Michael treating them (poorly).”
It wasn’t an easy road at FGCU. Fly took over a team that needed a rebuild. The Eagles won 14 games his first year, and 10 the next.
His third season, 2020-21, was supposed to be the Eagles’ breakout year. Unfortunately for Fly and his staff, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact the team, forcing two two-week pauses in a 10-8 campaign.
“Michael was dealing with it as best he could, and I think that was something I appreciated and we valued,” Kavanagh said. “That he wasn’t whining about it.”
During the 2021-22 campaign, FGCU took a leap forward. It won 20 regular season games, then beat North Alabama in the first round of the ASUN tournament, before losing to eventual champion Bellarmine.
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Still, Kavanagh didn’t feel the program was where he wanted it to be, given the expectations that Fly had helped build. He was fired following the Bellarmine loss.
“We were just losing some support that we really needed at a time when our finances were really in tough straits coming out of COVID,” Kavanagh said. “That was a difficult period of time and awe just felt from the overall standpoint, that was the decision that we needed to make to try and generate some additional enthusiasm.”
Fly vehemently disagreed with the decision and said he felt the team was moving in the right direction with most of his players returning. Still, he and Kavanagh have somehow remained friends.
“I joke with him,” Fly said. “I say, ‘I think you made a terrible business decision,’ but I respect the decision as a person, so we still have a good relationship.”
'It makes you better'
The news was crushing for both Fly and his staff. Still, there was work to be done, with Kavanagh giving him the option to keep coaching through a postseason appearance in The Basketball Classic.
In an abnormal move, he stayed.
FGCU announced its new head coach hire before the tournament. However, Kavanagh said new coach Pat Chambers waited to come into the office until Fly was fully done.
The Eagles won their first game before the season ended with a loss to Coastal Carolina. Afterward, Fly accepted an invitation to the team’s postseason banquet and delivered remarks for his seniors.
“I said ‘Listen, Michael, you don’t have to come, but there’s a lot of people who would like to see you,’” Kavanagh said. “He came, and that was not an easy thing to do. And he got a standing ovation.”
Fly had options for 2022-23. He could have gone and been an on-floor assistant again, probably fast-tracking his way to another head coaching job.
Instead, he joined fellow Hamilton coaching tree member Gates in Columbia.
“What really attracted me to the job was being able to see it from day one,” Fly said in May. “Other opportunities I had, it was guys in the middle of their contract, I wanted to watch what (Gates) did.”
Fly’s experience has been helpful inside the program, with Gates praising him for providing a valuable viewpoint.
MU forward Kobe Brown attested to how Fly helped him learn to lead in tough times, even pulling him aside for a pep talk following MU’s losses to Texas A&M and Florida.
“Adversity hits,” Brown said Fly told him. “What keeps you out of it is how you let it affect you. You just got to keep the guys together.”
Fly keeps a notebook of things Gates does that he plans to implement in the future. Topping the list was his composure on the court, along with the strong relationships he has built with players, even taking a fishing trip with forward Noah Carter.
“I used to say ‘if’ I got another head coaching job, now I jokingly tell the guys ‘when’ I get another coaching job, because I’m in a little better place with everything,” Fly said.
The move has led to life changes, moving him and his family away from Fort Myers for the first time in more than a decade. After a game early in the season, MU athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois spoke to him about his clothing choices.
“She said ‘Coach, we had a couple people comment on the navy tie, we got to get you some black and gold,’” Fly said. “We laughed about it. But even the little things like that, my whole wardrobe was green and blue, every suit, every tie.”
Fly’s current role is perfect for the observing he wants to do. He takes notes on practice and provides input when he feels it’s needed.
He also tries to help as many people as possible within the program, from Gates on down.
“It’s been a process for me to get back to a positive place,” Fly said. “But when you get some adversity, you start to realize sometimes when you go through adversity, it makes you better in the long run...I’m learning things now, that at my next head coaching job, I think I’ll be better because of this experience.”
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Former FGCU coach Michael Fly relishes role on Mizzou basketball staff