Flynn adjusting to leadership role, new offense
BATON ROUGE, La. -- For four seasons, LSU's Matt Flynn has played on one knee. In 37 games over the past three seasons, Flynn served as the Tigers' holder on place kicks. When he managed to run on the field and stay on his feet, he did so with mop in hand. When he performed mop-up duty as quarterback in six games last fall, the average score when Flynn took over the offense was Tigers 36, Opponents 2.
That's neither the path to sharpening one's competitive acumen nor what Flynn signed up for when he came here four years ago. But it's what he got when he signed with LSU on the same day the Tigers signed JaMarcus Russell -- the physical freak (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) who went 25-4 as a starter in Baton Rouge and concluded his collegiate career with a near-perfect (21-34-1, 332 yards, two touchdowns) performance in LSU's 41-14 victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
"I cannot sit here and say, 'Man, I should have been playing. I'm so much better than him.'" Flynn said, a grin playing across his face. "I can't say that."
For four years, Flynn competed with Russell, pushing him to get better. Now Flynn must compete with Russell's shadow, and in a new offense. The day after the news broke that Russell planned to leave, Flynn's quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for his entire career, Jimbo Fisher, left LSU to take the same duties at Florida State.
The knowledge that Flynn gained under Fisher lost currency. The race between him and redshirt sophomore Ryan Perrilloux, the blue-chip quarterback who switched from Texas to LSU at the last second in 2005, appeared to draw closer.
If ever a guy had a moment to believe he was snakebit, this was it. Yet Flynn never flinched. Two months later, as the Tigers work through spring practice, Flynn reveals no sense that this is not his team or that this is not his time.
There is chat room debate about whether Flynn or Perrilloux will run the Tigers next fall, and coach Les Miles says there will be competition. But you don't have to watch practice very long to see who is ready to take over the team. It is evident in Flynn's walk, in the calm he exudes. It's also evident in the way he runs the offense.
In scrimmage one day last week against the second-team defense, Flynn completed all seven passes he threw, two for touchdowns to Early Doucet. He threw on a rollout, he threw after play-action, he threw when he dropped back. He threw seven strikes.
Perrilloux throws like Nuke LaLoosh before Crash and Annie got hold of him. He has yet to harness the talent that made him so coveted. Flynn understands how much time it takes.
"My redshirt freshman year, when I wasn't getting a lot of playing time and JaMarcus was, it was tough," Flynn said after practice one day last week. "Man, I want to be out there. Through this experience, I learned a lot of patience. I learned a lot of patience and more of a bigger concept of team."
Though he played so little last fall, throwing 20 passes all season and not taking a snap in any of the last five games, Flynn had no doubt that he could lead LSU. Neither did his teammates. When Russell injured a shoulder the season before and couldn't play against Miami in the Peach Bowl, Flynn stepped in. The Tigers humiliated the Hurricanes, 40-3.
"I always knew he could be a leader," Doucet said. "Seeing him do what he did in the Peach Bowl against a team like Miami spoke for itself."
"It's one thing to go out there and say, 'I've had some success in the fourth quarter,'" Flynn said. "It's another completely different thing to say, 'Hey, I can go up there against a big-time ranked team in a big-time game and perform well from the first quarter to the fourth quarter and decide the game.' I think it was good for my teammates to know, 'Yeah, he can do it. We've seen him do it.' If anything, it was a bigger thing for the team."
His performance made an impression a continent away at Oregon, where offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Gary Crowton worked.
"I thought Miami had a pretty good defense," Crowton said. "Matt was just as poised as he could be. I was impressed. You saw things. He was very poised, athletic; a controlled, accurate passer."
Crowton's opinion matters because he now holds the same two jobs at LSU. As he and Flynn have felt each other out for two months, they have found a medium. Crowton has added an option package to the LSU playbook, and more "read" routes out of the shotgun. The quarterback and wide receiver will read the defense and adjust on the fly.
Crowton is doing some adjusting himself. He is incorporating the power running game that he found when he got to Baton Rouge.
"What I tried to do is keep as much of the good stuff as I was comfortable handling," Crowton said. "I don't want to try to do things I didn't know how [to do]. I added a few things I thought would be productive. At Oregon, we were very spread out. At times, there were some things you miss, certain things in goal-line, short-yardage."
"It's just a very good job," Flynn said. "I knew we were going to hire someone real good. I had total confidence that Coach Miles would hire someone with experience and we'll be able to move the ball."
Flynn's emphasis on the team strikes a resonant chord with his head coach. Miles played and coached at Michigan for the late Bo Schembechler, whose refrain went like this: "The team. The team. The team."
"I think [Flynn] has a real calm when he goes into a game or when he's learning," Miles said, "and can apply it to real solid decision making. At that position, it may be one of the more important characteristics that you can have. He has a comfort there. He can throw the football. He has good feet. The kids believe in him. I think he has real advantages for us there."
Flynn's ability to lead can be traced back to Tyler (Texas) Lee High, where as a senior he led the Red Raiders to the state semifinals despite playing with a broken foot.
"He really shouldn't have been playing," said LSU sophomore offensive tackle Ciron Black, who also played with Flynn at Lee. "He was in a boot [during the week]. He got out there and played his butt off. You could see he was hurting. He sacrificed for the team."
Black's sister Shamia grew up with Flynn. The two guys from Tyler are especially close now that Black literally has Flynn's back. He will start for the second season at left tackle, where last fall he made freshman All-America.
"It's 5½ hours to Tyler," said Black, who always catches a ride home with Flynn. "He's got a big ol' dog. He's got to be over 200 pounds. He's got a Tahoe and that dog takes up the two back rows. He is so big."
The dog is a cane corso, and he sits between Chris and Kirk every Saturday.
Oh, sorry, wrong Corso. The other name for the breed is Italian mastiff. And Flynn corrected his shotgun mate -- the dog weighs a mere 130 pounds.
"His name is Boudreaux -- B-O-U-D-R-E-A-U-X," Flynn said. "I'm from Texas. I had to get a dog and give it a Cajun name."
As if anyone needed more evidence that Flynn has settled in as LSU quarterback.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.