Commentary

Flynn's attitude keys Tigers' smooth QB transition

Originally Published: September 6, 2007
By Ron Higgins | Special to ESPN.com

At least seven Fridays for each of the past four football seasons, Alvin Flynn and his wife Ruth have dutifully climbed in the family vehicle and driven five hours from their home in Tyler, Texas to Baton Rouge, La.

They've taken Interstate 20 east to Interstate 49 south to see their son Matt, a backup LSU quarterback, mostly hold for extra points and field goals.

Subsequently, there hasn't been much to discuss on those Sunday afternoon trips back to Tyler.

"We've spent a lot of money watching Matt hold footballs," Alvin said with a laugh. "We kid all the time, 'That was one of the greatest holds we've ever seen.'"

But this weekend's trip will be different for the Flynns. This weekend, as Alvin said, will have a "different air of excitement and expectations than we've had before."

Because finally, the most patient man in college football, LSU fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Flynn, gets to start the first home game of his career when the No. 2 Tigers face No. 9 Virginia Tech on Saturday (ESPN, 9:15 p.m. ET).

About 14 Flynn family members will be on hand. Also, somewhere up above the shining lights of Tiger Stadium, Matt's late grandfather Mike, who died about 11 years ago, will be laughing and shaking his head.

It was Grandpa Flynn who had his grandson pegged perfectly. He nicknamed little 5-year-old Matt "Ironhead" -- because, as Alvin said, "Matt was one of those hardheaded little kids that you couldn't tell he couldn't do something, because he'd show you he could do it."

Matt Flynn
arvin Gentry-US PRESSWIREMatt Flynn carried the Tigers past Mississippi State in LSU's opening game.

Whether it's his stubbornness or loyalty, the latter of which is in short supply these days in college football, Flynn sat four years (one as a redshirt) at LSU, most of them behind JaMarcus Russell, selected No. 1 overall in April's NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders.

"It was tough to sit for so long and not play," Flynn said. "But I knew something good would happen if I stayed patient. I love this school. I love everything about it. I just wanted the opportunity to lead this team."

There's not a more admired man on a team chock-full of NFL talent than Flynn.

"Matt has always competed extremely well," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Our team has a great respect for him and admires how he's competed. As this year approached, everyone on this team was looking forward to him being our quarterback."

Flynn's unselfish attitude has had a profound effect on his teammates.

"Before I committed to LSU, I looked at Matt and I thought, 'This guy can play for anybody in the country, and why is he here as a backup?'" LSU star receiver Early Doucet said. "It just showed me what he thought of the program, his loyalty to the team.

"Matt, out of all the guys on the team, maybe is the only person who can handle the situation of waiting so long to get a chance to start."

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who recruited Flynn in 2003 as LSU's coach, said he isn't surprised Flynn stuck it out.

"Matt Flynn is a great person, exactly what you'd want at any place you coach to lead your team," Saban said. "He's a great example of perseverance. Every time he got a chance to play as a backup, he did an outstanding job, and he'll do the same as a starter."

It's not easy stepping in for a No. 1 overall draft choice, as Flynn is doing. One of the last times it happened in the SEC was in 1998 when little-used junior quarterback Tee Martin, ironically from the same Mobile, Ala. high school as Russell (Williamson H.S.), took over as Tennessee's starting quarterback for the graduated Peyton Manning.

Virginia Tech vs. LSU
VaTech vs. LSU

When: Sept. 8, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Baton Rouge, La.
Preview:
Schlabach: Glennon's proving ground
Scouts' take: LSU has edge Insider
Two top defenses face off in Baton Rouge

That transition turned out rather well. The Vols went 13-0 and won the first BCS national championship by beating Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.

The key to Martin's success, remembered Randy Sanders, Martin's quarterbacks coach who is now the QB coach at Kentucky, was allowing Martin to start slowly and building his game and confidence as the season progressed.

"Tee did a great job of being Tee Martin and not Peyton Manning," Sanders said. "He went out and played his game. At the same time, our coaches and football team let him be himself. We were pretty good on defense that year, so Tee was able not to force anything. He had time to get comfortable and settled."

The one difference in Flynn's situation compared to Martin, who went 22-3 as a starter in his final two years, is that Flynn is a slightly more proven commodity even in mostly mop-up duty.

His first college completion as a redshirt freshman was a 67-yard touchdown to Xavier Carter. Flynn's career TD-to-interception ratio heading into this season was 10-to-2.

When an injured Russell had to sit out the 2005 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Miami, Flynn stepped in as the starter. He threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns and was named the game's outstanding offensive player in a 40-3 LSU victory that was so overwhelming that Miami coach Larry Coker fired several assistants.

"I've always had confidence in myself, but I think that game was more important for my team," Flynn said. "I think I proved to them I can play and be successful in a big-time game against a big-time opponent."

Said Doucet: "I think that game also proved to the nation he could play, and it's why this team has such high expectations this year."

In last week's season-opening 45-0 beatdown at Mississippi State, Flynn, working with new LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, reminded everyone exactly what he's all about.

Despite a couple of rainstorms and a soggy football, Flynn was flawless. He completed 12-of-19 passes (hitting his last 9-of-12) for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 42 yards, some of them designed runs, some nifty escapes with his innate sense of sliding around a collapsing pocket.

Bottom line: no turnovers, while Mississippi State had seven, including six interceptions thrown by QB Michael Henig.

Matt Flynn #15
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesMatt Flynn tossed two TDs in the '05 Peach Bowl.

"As the game progresses, I'm going to do what the game tells me to do," Flynn said. "I know we've got a good defense, I know they are playing well. There's no reason to be careless with the ball.

"Whatever is necessary for this team to win, I'm going to do it. If it's to hold on to the ball and not take any chances, that's what I'm going to do. I know what I'm capable of and I know what I'm not capable of. I'm not going to go out there and be someone I'm not; I'm not going to go out there and be JaMarcus Russell."

It's a reason why the Tigers have a legitimate chance to pick up their third national championship this year. Because for all of the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Russell's jaw-dropping physical skills, like sailing the ball 70 yards in the air with a flick of a wrist, his decision-making was suspect until the last half of last season.

Miles doesn't have those worries with the 6-3, 228-pound Flynn.

"All Matt ever needs to do is what he did against Miami in the bowl game," Miles said. "He puts us in the right play, makes the right reads on the run and makes the right throw."

And if Flynn does that, especially on Saturday against Virginia Tech, the Flynn family record of quarterbacks starting a game in Baton Rouge should be 1-1.

Way back in 1968, Alvin Flynn lined up in Tiger Stadium as a starting quarterback for the Baylor Bears.

"I remember two things about that game, the first of which was LSU's depth," said Alvin, now a civil attorney in Tyler. "The second was, LSU put its live tiger Mike in a cage next to our dressing-room door. We swung the door open to go out to the field, the door hit the cage, Mike roared to beat the band and everything stacked up. We had guys sliding along one by one with their backs to a wall to get past the cage."

It didn't get any better for Alvin and his teammates that night; they lost 48-16.

This time around, though, for a starting QB named Flynn, odds are things will turn out better. Because as they say on the bayou, "If you're not a Tiger, you must be Tiger bait."

And after showing such loyalty for so long, no one disputes where Matt Flynn's heart stands.

"Maybe transferring at one time was in the back of my mind, but I always knew this is where I want to be," Flynn said. "It's an honor to finally lead this team. It's a dream come true and worth the wait."

Ron Higgins covers the Southeastern Conference for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis.