Creighton’s Flanery wins 300th game
Jim Flanery stumbled into a coaching opportunity and never looked back.
The sideline general for the Creighton women’s basketball team earned his 300th career win when the Bluejays posted a 69-54 win over No. 18-ranked Villanova in December.
Flanery, who grew up in Guthrie Center, the son of Jim and Judy Flanery, is in his 26th season with the Creighton women’s basketball program, his 16th as the Bluejays head coach.
“I still enjoy it,” Flanery told the Guthrie Center Times. “Working in athletics, working at a college campus keeps you young.”
Flanery, who starred in basketball, baseball and golf as a prep at Guthrie Center high school, took his talents to Creighton as a member of the Bluejay men’s basketball team from 1985-1987. He was also a member of the Creighton men’s golf team. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy in 1987.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do out of college,” Flanery said. “I kind of thought I wanted to go to Law school.”
He worked a couple of years, while keeping his eyes on Law school. “I just couldn’t pull the trigger, so I thought I must not really want to go since I couldn’t commit to it,” he said.
He joined the Creighton coaching staff as a graduate assistant for the 1987-88 season. He remained on the staff through 1989-90. He then joined Connie Yori, who starred as a prep at Ankeny high school, at Loras College in Dubuque for two seasons. When Yori, who is arguably one of the best players to ever play for Creighton, was named the head coach for the Bluejays, Flanery returned to Omaha and once again joined forces with her. As Yori’s top assistant, Flanery and the Bluejays notched a 170-115 record in a 10-year span.
Flanery became the Creighton head coach on July 19, 2002, four weeks after Yori resigned to become the head coach at Nebraska. He is the sixth head coach in women’s hoops history at Creighton. This is his 16th year as the Bluejays head coach and his 26th overall at Creighton.
“That’s a long time to be somewhere,” Flanery said. “When you start, you don’t anticipate that, but I think in coaching, first of all you have to avoid being fired which isn’t easy -- and you see the grass isn’t always greener. There’s a lot of reasons I’m still here.”
He enjoys being close to home. His mom lives in West Des Moines, moving to Waukee from Guthrie Center just three and a half years ago. His dad passed many years ago. His wife, Emily’s family, resides in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Omaha is a lot like Des Moines,” he said. “It’s big enough there’s a lot going on, but not so big you feel lost.”
He enjoys the size of the university.
“Creighton is small school, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the last several years with facilities and resources,” he said. “We don’t have the money that a lot of schools have, but we have enough to be successful and that part has been neat to see us grow.”
Flanery led Creighton to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second time in the last five seasons and claimed the program’s first Big East regular season crown in 2016-17. He is the only coach to guide Creighton to three NCAA tournaments, reaching the Big Dance in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history in 2012 and 2013 as well as 2017.
Flanery has guided the Bluejays to the postseason 13 times, including each of the past 10 seasons, and has recorded nine 20-win seasons. He has two Missouri Valley Conference regular season championships, an MVC tournament championship and added his first Big East regular season title with a 16-2 conference record last year.
“This is the fifth year we’ve been in the Big East conference,” he said in a move from the Missouri Valley Conference where Creighton competed against the likes of Drake and the University of Northern Iowa. “When the Big East realignment happened a bunch of the Big East teams were looking for basketball schools to expand and they ended up taking us, Butler and Xavier, so we’re actually the western most school in our league by quite a bit.”
Five of the 10 teams in the league are east coast schools.
“The travel is way different,” Flanery said. “Instead of hoping on a plan for Springfield, Missouri or Peoria, Illinois or Indiana, we’re getting on a plane to the northeast, which is mostly good, but it’s not all good.”
Flanery said the winter weather isn’t always ideal and when his team connects through Chicago, oftentimes they find themselves in an airport much longer than they’d like to be .
But Flanery said visits to the cities provide his team and staff some wonderful experiences, also.
“We travel to New York, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago, so we get to do a lot of fun things,” he said.
Outside of the travel, Flaney said being around young people is one of the most enjoyable parts of his job.
“Creighton is able to attract really good student-athletes,” he said. “They are here for the right reasons -- they are really good at basketball, but they are also serious students, so that’s neat.”
Flanery has guided some of the top academic teams in the nation during his stint at Creighton.
One reason for his success, Flanery said, is his ability to adapt to change.
“I think that’s one of the things I do love,” he said. “I think to be successful, you do have to be willing to adapt and you have to be stubborn to a degree -- you are who you are, but you do have to be able to adapt and change. Kids are different, not in a bad way, but bottom line is you have to adapt.”
Every year is a different challenge, he says.
“There’s a lot of similarities, but I do think it (coaching) allows you to be creative because no team is necessarily the same from a physical standpoint, but there’s also challenges in motivating one team verses another -- team dynamics and chemistry,” he said. “It’s hard for 13 to 14 girls to get along every single day when they are together all the time, so I like that part of it.”
Flanery says he’s been fortunate to have good assistants, which makes his job easier all the time.
“My assistants are all younger females -- 35 to 24 -- and they are way better with 17-year-olds on the phone than I am and our players can go to them when they are frustrated or dealing with things outside of basketball,” he said. “They are way better with social media and technology than I am. I’d be lying if I said I connect to my players like I did when I was 28, but I still have relationships with them.”
Flanery, 52, isn’t sure how long he’ll coach.
“I’m 52 and I have a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old,” he says of son Jackson and daughter Brynn. “Somedays I can see myself coaching for 10-12 or 15 more years, other days, I don’t know.” He says most people his age have kids who are older and wouldn’t necessarily be thinking to retire.
“I go home and crawl around the floor with my four-year-old, so in some ways I don’t feel old, my family situation will dictate how long I coach,” he said. “I still enjoy coaching and I don’t expect to retire in the next few years.”
For now, he’s focused on a strong finish to the season. His team is 10-7 overall, 4-3 in the conference, and is ranked in the top 15 with a chance to make the NCAA tournament again this year.
“It depends on how we progress, we have a younger team than we had a year ago,” he said “We were picked fourth out of 10 in our league and right now we’re fourth.”
Creighton’s best player is Audrey Faber, a 6-foot-2 junior from Clive who played high school basketball at Dowling Catholic in Des Moines. Two more Iowa girls are on the roster, including Senior guard Myah Mellman from Mason City and freshman forward Gracey Griglione, who prepped at Interstate 35.
Flanery said he always enjoys seeing fans from Guthrie Center in the stands.
“When we played at Drake there were several from Guthrie Center there,” he said of a four-overtime win for his club in December. “I miss much about it and am thankful I was able to grow up there.”