One of the last coaches I met after taking over as the Olivet Community Schools’ athletic director during the summer of 2013 was Rob Fleming, who, at the time, was three months away from starting the sixth of his eventual nine seasons as the district’s head girls’ basketball coach.
It was an uncomfortable meeting, to say the least, partially due to his private nature but mainly because he was mourning the recent passing of his wife. When he walked out of my office that day, I really did not know him any better than when he walked in.
Well, that was four and a half years ago, and I can honestly say that I am no longer uncomfortable around Coach Fleming. In fact, I am probably more relaxed around him than any other person in Olivet. His tremendous character, community status, sense of humor and unique insight – all of these things have allowed me to gain absolute trust in him.
That praise may come as a surprise to Coach Fleming since our relationship is often masked by good-natured ribbing. Looking back, I definitely have given him a hard time about certain things.
When his teams rarely played 5-on-5 in practice, I teased him. When his teams would come out of the locker room late at halftime, I teased him. When he would call me prematurely and ask why the team bus was late, I teased him. When he would get mad at Logan Kyre for a mental mistake, I teased him. And when he brought full-size bath towels to a game last season, well, I nearly fell off my chair.
Those are just a few examples of times when I have poked at Coach Fleming. But don’t feel sorry for him. He has returned the favor many times.
The reality of the situation is that I admire Rob Fleming as much as any coach that I have come across in my career. And I base that feeling solely on what I have heard from other people. That sounds strange, I know, but stay with me on this one.
As a coach, the one thing you hope for is to make a positive difference in your players’ lives and to at least earn the respect of the adults who line the perimeter of your program. It does not always work out that way, unfortunately, but that is normally the objective outside (or inside) of winning games and championships.
Rob Fleming is not your ordinary coach, though. Not only did he win 79 percent of his games and collect enough hardware to fill two showcases, you will rarely hear a negative comment about him from anyone. His former players speak of his influence, compassion and competitiveness, not to mention that he is always there for them. As for his players’ parents, during an era where coaches are sometimes less popular than a case of measles, he somehow managed to keep the peace.
And that’s not even counting the random people around town. Bring up Coach Fleming’s name and you will likely produce a smile, a whacky story and a sincere “what a great guy” endorsement.
Following Coach Fleming’s resignation last March, his long-time assistant and close friend, Russ Stolberg, had this to say: “He has spoiled this town for 35 years and will be greatly missed.”
With that said, stay with me a little longer and join us for “Rob Fleming Night” on Tuesday, January 2 at Olivet High School. A ceremony will take place at halftime of the Olivet-Homer varsity girls’ basketball game. This is the time when we give a little back to a coach who has given so much to Olivet.