Coach gets nod after 19 seasons
St. Francis Preparatory School lies along Francis Lewis Boulevard, nestled inside the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway. Vince Lombardi once called the Queens school home, as did Joe Torre.
It added to its list of distinguished alumni yesterday, when 41-year-old Kyle Flood became the 29th head coach in Rutgers football history. He credited former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, but not before he paid homage to a 59-year St. Francis mainstay.
Vince O’Connor, 81, gave Flood his first coaching opportunity in 1993.
“He was just a tremendous person the way he cared for his players, whether you were Kyle Flood, who would go on to play Division III football, or Marco Battaglia, who went on to play in the NFL,” Flood said at his introductory press conference. “When you spoke to Mr. O’Connor, you were the most important person in the world.”
Battaglia, a former Rutgers All-American, was on hand at the Hale Center to hear Flood, along with a host of Scarlet Knights and administrators. He recalls Flood running around the St. Francis cafeteria, making sure players were ready for the weekend’s game.
“Coach O’Connor would count on a guy like that because he would be able to control all of us,” said Battaglia, who was a sophomore when Flood was a senior. “He showed leadership qualities back then, and he’s been doing it ever since.”
Flood spent most of Monday recruiting when Athletic Director Tim Pernetti informed Flood of his decision. Flood said, “Thank you,” he joked yesterday, and called his wife afterward. And then he worked, like he promised Pernetti last Thursday, when he took over as interim head coach.
“Consistency is the most important thing in any program,” Flood said. “Consistency of relationships in recruiting has allowed us to advance our recruiting every year. The vision of Rutgers football on offense, defense and special teams goes forward as it does today. Nothing stays the same — it gets better.”
Like Schiano, Flood promised championships in the future. He spent seven seasons under Schiano, serving as his offensive line coach and earning assistant head coach responsibilities in 2008.
He spoke with Schiano, now head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before interviewing Saturday for the position. And he spent countless hours in a chair next to the 11-year head coach.
But after 19 seasons as an assistant, now is Flood’s time.
“I’m not here to try to be Greg Schiano, nor is my personality the same as Greg Schiano’s,” Flood said. “Going forward, they’ll see the differences.”
The differences ultimately paid dividends for Flood, who received endorsements from several former players — most in the NFL — during Pernetti’s coaching search.
He helped produce 2010 first-round pick Anthony Davis, who started every game in two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He tutored 10 All-Big East First Team or Second Team members. And, unlike Schiano, he served on a national championship-winning coaching staff in 2003 at Delaware.
Flood coached the Hofstra offensive line for five seasons before he earned a shot with Delaware. He also had a two-year stint at Long Island University-C.W. Post after leaving his alma mater, St. Francis.
Battaglia still runs into his and Flood’s former St. Francis teammates, which he called “to this day, very tight.” Before becoming a four-year letterwinner at Iona, Flood’s St. Francis teams were dominant, Battaglia said.
“It’s one of those schools where it’s under the radar — it’s a city school,” Battaglia said. “But it has great tradition. You’re getting the principle values. You look at all these guys in the coaching field — these are all character guys.”
Flood built close ties with New Jersey high school coaches because of that character. He lured Ryan Brodie, the Garden State’s top lineman recruit, to Piscataway, along with Pennsylvania’s J.J. Denman and Chris Muller, Rivals.com four-star recruits.
He still continues to prepare, even if it is not as frantic as it was in a St. Francis mess hall.
“That was a memory I did not expect to have today,” Flood said. “There are some coaches that envisioned themselves someday as head coaches. I fell into that category. Since I started coaching, I always hoped at some point I would have an opportunity to be a head coach somewhere. You never know when that opportunity may or may not come.”
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