March 7, 2012
UCF Athletics Social Media Directory
By Brian Ormiston
As UCF prepares for its first spring practice March 13, UCFAthletics.com is focusing on the Knights' new coaches who have joined the staff for the upcoming season. Today's feature takes a look at defensive coordinator Jim Fleming.
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Little Jim Fleming glanced into the summer sky, his body encompassed by charming high-rise structures. With freshly-cut green grass of Central Park surrounding his feet, he had his target in sight. It was not the New York City skyline which grabbed his youthful attention. Fleming's concentration was on a pigskin flung into the air, looking to be snagged by his hands and eventually spiked into the dirt.
Central Park served as his football field.
Dressed in gear from head to toe, Fleming walked from his home over to one of the most famous parks in the world on Saturdays to participate in a youth football organization when he was 9-11 years old. At that time, the city was tame enough where his parents had no trouble allowing their children to wander the streets of Manhattan. The Fleming bunch certainly took advantage.
The second-oldest of five children, Fleming stuck by older brother Peter like Elmer's glue. The duo would walk all over town and routinely took public buses to their destinations.
"Living in Manhattan, we had a lot of freedom from the time I was in about second grade. We went to a Catholic school in the city so we would have to travel by public bus 25 blocks. It's arguable to say that helped me mature at a young age, I mean I'm not sure if I have matured whatsoever," Fleming laughed. "But there was a lot of independence in the way we were raised. We got home for dinner and our parents weren't overly worried about us going all over the place."
If they were not frolicking in the city, Jim and Peter along with younger brothers Will and David would toss around the football in their apartment, forcing the resident below them to knock on the ceiling with her broomstick.
Fleming's father was a lawyer and a huge New York Giants fan, and that bled down into his children including daughter Jane, the youngest of the five. Their mother stayed at home to take care of the flock. They lived in three different apartments in Manhattan before moving to Greenwich, Conn., when Fleming was 12.
"My old man wanted to move us out of the city, so at 12-13 years old I kept playing football in youth leagues in Connecticut," Fleming said. "We got where we needed by walking or riding our bike; whatever it took until we were able to get our licenses."
His life would only get more entertaining, as Fleming's remarkable path prior to accepting UCF's defensive coordinator position this past offseason would take him to Tennessee, Louisiana, California and almost everywhere in between.
Oh, and not to mention a potato farm in Oregon. But it all started with a small family business in Connecticut.
"I had a 1968 Buick Sport Wagon, which was a hand-me-down family car," Fleming reflected. "It was an old beat-up thing but it would go pretty good. We bounced around in that for years, and when it would rain or snow the floorboards would fill up with water. It was a cool car.
"My brothers and I then started a landscaping business, and we called it Flem Bros Hauling. Our motto was, `We Make Any Job Easy Like Sunday Morning,' which was the Commodores' song at the time. We bought an old, rusty Maine Light & Power truck for $400-500, built up the sides of it and just started dump runs and landscaping. Peter and I incorporated our younger brothers later on, and we would put an ad in the paper as well as spread news through word-of-mouth publicity. It was a really good situation to make money. We kept it going through college. We laugh about it now because if we would have just stayed with that, bought a bunch of trucks and continued to develop we probably would have been set the rest of our lives."
A College Boy
Standing at 6-3 and 195 pounds, Fleming was not the quickest athlete around yet desired to get away from Connecticut to attend college with the goal of playing football and baseball.
"I didn't have a lot of girth, but I could catch the ball and do some things on the football field as a tight end," Fleming said. "I was being recruited mostly by Division III schools in New England. The school I was really looking at was Amherst in Massachusetts but my grades weren't up to that level. One of my teachers told me that if I was interested in that kind of school, then I should look down south at the University of the South, which is more familiarly called Sewanee. It's on a mountaintop in Tennessee halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. I went down for a visit and met with the football and baseball coaches. I also visited Furman but they told me I had to commit solely on football, and my interest was to play both sports. Sewanee gave me that opportunity."
Primarily a pitcher, first baseman and third baseman, Fleming played everywhere on the diamond except catcher for the Tigers. Not only would he bang out approximately seven home runs as a senior, but he was the No. 1 pitcher on the staff throughout his career. A righty whose fastball clocked in the mid-80s, Fleming loved to work quickly when toeing the rubber, painting the corners and fooling opponents with his slider which tailed away along with his change-curve which forced batters to back off.
Fleming also experienced a two-day stretch current college pitchers could hardly imagine.
"One time I pitched 15 innings, gave up 4-5 hits and lost on an error. The next day we had another game and I came in and pitched in relief," Fleming said. "So in terms of wearing out an arm, there is no question my rotator cuff is definitely attributable to overuse as a college pitcher."
Not just in a utility position for the baseball program, Fleming soaked up his role on the gridiron as well, highlighted by a senior year which featured Sewanee traveling to Orlando to face a UCF squad celebrating its inaugural season in 1979.
"I was fairly involved in the passing game, and a guy who could block and flex out," Fleming said. "I think my best game was when I had 13 catches, and I was a decent point-of-attack pass blocker.
"When we played UCF, everybody loaded up in one bus with a van which carried support staff. We stayed in Daytona Beach, and on the day of the game our bus broke down on I-4. We pulled over on the side of the road and waited. So after the new bus showed up, we arrived at the stadium and hustled to get dressed. We went out onto the field at the Citrus Bowl and there was a good number of people in the stands. The crowd was far bigger than what we were used to. When their horse came out to the middle of the field with a spear and spiked it, we said to ourselves, `We're in for a different kind of ballgame here.'"
Off to the Pacific Time Zone
By this time Fleming was up to 220 pounds yet ran the 40 in five-flat. When the scouts came through, his speed did not stand out, but fortunately a couple of side jobs such as coaching his brother at the Pop Warner level prepared him for a future in the profession. Only that was still years away.
"When I finished college, I didn't know what was going to happen to me," Fleming admitted. "I went back into the landscaping business and then took off in September. I left the truck, bought a van and took off to work my way across the country.
"I stopped in New Orleans because I had a buddy there so I painted houses. I then ended up in the Northwest where my dad hooked me up with a guy named Pete Taggares who ran a huge potato farm, and he had a number of corporate farms in Washington and Oregon. He was in Othello, Wash., and he put me to work in Boardman, Ore., where I stayed in my van for a month and a half near Basque sheepherders and their camp. There was a structure where we ate our meals and my van was hooked up to electricity. These farms were circle farms and when the irrigation needed to be replaced, we would spend our time taking care of PVC pipe. Other days we would be at the potato warehouse shoving the loaders into semis. We would have 25 full semis of potatoes every day, and the warehouse itself was 100 yards long. To test my mettle, the first job he gave me was when he provided me with a 100 pound jackhammer to break up concrete. So I was on that for a week with my hands bleeding, but it actually was pretty cool.
"I did make my way to California where I got a job as an electrician's assistant for a little over a year. This time I had an apartment and lived a good life in Costa Mesa which is a couple of blocks up the road from Newport Beach. I pulled wire and did electrical jobs for a guy I met in a pizza shop."
Back to Football
Living on the West Coast, Fleming began wondering what was next. He moved back east to Stamford, Conn., working for commercial real estate company Coldwell Banker. At the age of 25, he bumped into old New York Giants head coach Allie Sherman at a function for his job in the winter of 1985. Fleming struck up a friendship with Sherman, who called one of his old players and University of South Carolina head coach Joe Morrison.
Next thing Fleming knew, he was sitting at a hotel diner in the same booth as Morrison and current University of Kansas head coach Charlie Weis.
"I got a call from coach Morrison and he said he was doing a clinic in Cherry Hill, N.J., so I drove down in a snowstorm and met him right after South Carolina's 1984 season where they were ranked in the top-10," Fleming said. "I had him across from me and Charlie Weis on the inside of the booth. Morrison hired us both on the spot as graduate assistants. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was certainly inspired by it."
Specifically tutoring the wide receivers, Fleming had the chance to work with eventual NFL standout Sterling Sharpe during his two seasons in Columbia, yet after his graduate assistantship was up Fleming was still in need of a job. He noticed Skip Hall just accepted the head coaching gig at Boise State in December of 1986, so Fleming made a phone call every day and even sent letters until he was hired as the Broncos' tight ends and wide receivers coach, ultimately evolving into their defensive coordinator from 1990-92.
All of this while Fleming looked forward to his wedding the following month.
"I was still living in Columbia out of a job and was set to get married Jan. 9. Leslie and I got engaged in late September and I probably did nothing for the wedding other than show up," Fleming laughed. "We met as freshmen in college, and I set my sights on her the first night we broke training camp at Sewanee. I saw her, she thought I was a dope for the first six months, but I kept chasing her and we then dated for 10 years. She was prepared for the life she was going to jump into of being married to a football coach. That was a huge piece of advice I received from Allie Sherman. And he told me, `Whatever happens make sure your wife knows what she's getting in to.'"
When Fleming found his way to Akron as its defensive coordinator for the 2004 campaign, it became a family affair as his son Will joined the Zips as a freshman in 2008.
"Will was a three-star guy who had opportunities to go elsewhere, but chose to come play for us at Akron," Fleming said. "He blew his shoulder out as a true freshman, which was the second time it happened, so we grey-shirted him. He went on scholarship in January and I coached him a full year at linebacker. He's everything you want in a football player.
"The coaching staff at Akron got fired after the 2009 season so I went over to Kent State, however Will redshirted so there wasn't a situation where I was watching him compete against us. He started a few games at tight end last year and will probably be a slot receiver this season because Akron's new staff is moving to a spread offense."
Fleming's first game as UCF's defensive coordinator: At Akron Aug. 30. They are both smart enough to not share any secrets, so phone conversations during preseason camp in August may be a little awkward.
That term, awkward, may fit perfectly given Fleming's journey. Who has memories of playing football in Central Park while also working on a potato farm in Oregon? Who can look back on living near the Pacific Ocean, in the Louisiana Bayou, on a mountaintop in Tennessee and in the vast state of Idaho? With those life-altering experiences behind him, Fleming now has the pleasure of adding the Sunshine State to his adventurous scrapbook.