Michael Fly said he has been thinking about this day since he first arrived at FGCU.
Now it’s here.
Thursday, in a room full of media, current and former players, and FGCU staff, Fly was introduced as the program’s new men’s basketball coach.
“To look around the room and see all these faces from the last seven years, it means a lot to me. It’s not a press conference to me it’s a family gathering,” Fly said. “And that’s how I want it to be for years to come.”
It came as no surprise that Fly was going to be FGCU’s man when a press conference was called just hours after former coach Joe Dooley was named at East Carolina’s new men’s basketball coach Wednesday afternoon.
But that didn’t mean there wasn’t interest.
“Even though we didn’t have an open position, my phone has been blowing up and my email’s crowded, and I’ve had friends of friends reaching out to me the last few days about desire to take this position,” athletic director Ken Kavanagh said. “The best thing for us was to find the right fit.”
The fit between Fly and the Eagles appears to be a perfect one – even without the easy wordplay affording the hashtag #TimeToFly, used by the program Thursday and by lobbying students and fans before that – as Thursday’s press conference was full of current and soon to graduate players, and well-wishes pouring from around the program, past and present.
“Fly was like a father figure for me all four years at FGCU – he helped get me through college both on and off the court,” said former FGCU guard and current Dayton graduate assistant Brett Comer said. “I couldn’t be happier for him; he’s earned this opportunity by staying local to the program and the community.”
Fly got emotional at times, talking about getting the opportunity and about players past and present.
“I didn’t shoot any of these,” Fly said, gesturing toward a table full of Atlantic Sun conference trophies. “The guys sitting in front of me, and [girlfriend Heather Searcy] can attest to this, outside of my family and her, these guys are the most important thing to me, and that doesn’t change.”
Chase Fieler, now playing professionally in Europe, says Fly keeps in touch with him more than any coach he’s ever had.
“His passion for the FGCU program is incredible,” Fieler said. “He is a fire that I’m very proud of as an alumnus.”
Brandon Goodwin wasn’t present Thursday, but said he saw Fly “almost as a head coach these past few years” and called the pick “tremendous.” Fellow seniors Antravious Simmons, Joshua Ko, and Christian Terrell were.
“I’m so happy for him, he really deserves it,” Terrell said. “He’s always made sure we were good on and off the court. The fact there were no other interviews proves this was the right decision.”
Fly’s elevation ends what had been a swirling period of uncertainty. Since FGCU played their last game of the season, an 80-68 loss to Oklahoma State in the NIT just over three weeks ago, no fewer than four FGCU players have floated out they may leave the program, including star guard Zach Johnson, who is considering a graduate transfer and has gotten interest from several big-name programs.
Johnson, Terrell, and Goodwin were all recruited by Fly, and have been some of the program’s prized acquisitions in recent years.
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about me, it’s all about Coach Fly today,” Johnson said when asked if this influences his decision on where he’ll play next year. Johnson has also declared for the NBA Draft but without hiring an agent. “He has his hands everywhere, he obviously cares about you, we’ve known that he has our backs, and that’s something you don’t get a lot of places.”
Former FGCU coach Andy Enfield, who brought Fly with him to FGCU from Florida State in 2011, where Fly worked as video coordinator, called Fly one of the best assistants on the east coast.
“His hire as head coach brings tremendous pride to all of us who have watched him grow the last seven years,” said Enfield, who now coaches at USC. “This is great day for Coach Fly and the FGCU men’s basketball program.”
Fly said that the influence of Enfield, along with Dooley and FSU’s Leonard Hamilton will play a part in his coaching style.
“We’re going to keep some of the things that have made us so successful,” Fly said. “What I’ll tell you about style of play is that I want it to be all-out pressure, I want it to be aggressive. I want that when people come into Alico Arena they are very, very intimidated by the way we play.”
Fly was signed to a three-year deal, which will pay him $225,000 per year – equal to what Dooley made his first season in 2013. But he will get an additional $50,000 in pool funds to hire assistants than what Dooley had.
The biggest point that Fly kept trying to make was about activity and exciting the fanbase. Dooley inherited a fanbase deliriously excited over a Sweet Sixteen run that brought in 4,340 fans per game and seven sellouts – six more than the men’s program had in its history to that point, but that number atrophied to 3,656 this season.
“What I want this to become is Southwest Florida’s team,” Fly said. “I want the feelings of 2013 to be there every time that we open those doors, that you’ve got to be there and you’ve got to see it.”
“I want you to know that every time you walk in that gym, these kids are going to play their hearts out, and they’re going to have a lot of fun doing it.”
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