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A good team: North Forsyth father-son coaching duo balance family, winning

From the June 2018 400: The Life

Patrick Flowe had just finished playing football in high school for his dad, Cecil, the legendary coach at Parkview in Gwinnett County, when he realized what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

It was the fall of 2012 and the beginning of an impressive freshman season for Patrick, a safety on Georgia Southern University’s football team. On the field, he would play in every game and be named to the conference’s All-Freshman team. He would sack Aaron Murray, the University of Georgia’s star quarterback, on national television and help the Eagles go deep into the playoffs.

Cecil Flowe
- photo by Brian Paglia
Off the field, Patrick was torn. He had entered college intending to major in sports management just like he’d seen his sister do at Georgia, but after barely one semester in the curriculum he doubted the path he was on. The only other option that made sense was the one seemingly passed down to him: coaching.

 And yet Cecil tried to talk him out of it.

 “I tried my best,” Cecil said. “I was like, ‘Look, you need to go into another line of work. You’re smart. You can make a ton of money.’”

 But Patrick had been nurtured on the football field. He was a ball boy for Parkview at 4 years old and grew up around screeching whistles and crunching shoulder pads, around yes-sirs and no-sirs, and around a lot of winning. He watched his dad lead Parkview’s football team to national prominence during the late ’90s and early 2000s, winning four state championships and developing dozens of college players and a few professional ones.

 Patrick was one of those. He played for Cecil from 2008 to 2011, and how the two navigated the tricky father-son relationship dynamic during those years explains a lot about how they were able to walk out of the fieldhouse at North Forsyth High School on a recent May afternoon, two assistant coaches on the same team preparing for another season of high school football together.

 Clear boundaries

 It’s easy for it fail, for love to be swallowed up by competitiveness and pride, and a potentially beautiful, American story — of father-son bonding over football — falls apart.

 Cecil and Patrick avoided that pitfall by setting a clear boundary. On the field, their relationship was secondary to the task of preparing for football games. Cecil tells the story of a practice where he instructed Patrick, a linebacker at the time, to take two steps back and two steps to the right to better position himself to make a play. Patrick listened to his coach, no questions asked. Sure enough, he was right where he needed to be to make the tackle.

Patrick Flowe
Moments like that accumulated, and Cecil began to see the first signs of a coach in Patrick. Cecil had to instruct Patrick less and less, and he often observed Patrick directing other players.

“He was a coach on the field,” Cecil said.

 Off the field, their relationship took precedence again. Cecil was happy to talk football with Patrick. They’d often sit at home in front of game film to correct something. But only if Patrick asked. Cecil held back any urges he had to keep coaching Patrick after a game or practice had ended. When Patrick was ready to talk, they talked.

 “I learned very quickly, I’m not going to offer up stuff right after the game,” Cecil said. “That’s not what that’s about. It’s about being Dad.”

 “That was something I really enjoyed,” Patrick said.

 Their three seasons together at Parkview were some of the last of Cecil’s accomplished tenure. Patrick graduated in 2012 and was off to Georgia Southern that fall. Cecil stayed two more years at Parkview, then retired after 197 wins, but he continued coaching as an assistant at King’s Ridge Christian School, a private religious school in Alpharetta.

 Cecil grew restless at King’s Ridge after two years. By then, Patrick was close to graduating from Georgia Southern and eager to jump into high school coaching. He just needed a place to start.

 Their next steps came in sync, and tested their relationship again.


Back together

In 2004, Cecil interviewed a young recently-graduated college football quarterback for an assistant coaching position at Parkview named Robert Craft. Cecil liked him, wanted to hire him, but it didn’t work out. Craft instead went to Colquitt County High School in south Georgia and eventually to his alma mater in Florida, where he won a state championship.

Their paths eventually crossed again at Georgia Southern. Cecil was there to watch Patrick play. Craft was there to watch one of his former players, Matt Dobson. Patrick and Dobson were roommates their freshman year.

They caught up. Craft found out Cecil had moved to Forsyth County. Cecil found out Craft was going to be the next head football coach at North Forsyth. It didn’t take long for Craft to get Cecil to join his staff.

Patrick had a week off from school that summer, so he joined Cecil at North Forsyth practices. Craft put him to work.

“It stuck out right away of Patrick’s natural gift as a coach,” Craft said. “You could just tell that he was kind of born to do this.”

Craft saw it in his work ethic and his ability to simplify esoteric football concepts for young players. But it was mostly in how he related to those players, how they gravitated to him but also listened to him, the same way he listened to his dad on the field at Parkview.

Craft had an open assistant coaching position on his staff, and Patrick figured out how to finish his schooling in time to join North Forsyth for its 2016 season.

Father and son were back together again.


‘What coaching’s about’

 Cecil and Patrick soon fell back into their old patterns.

 On the field, they are colleagues, two assistant coaches trying to help Craft turn around a North Forsyth program that had won just three games the previous two seasons combined.

 They quibbled for a time over where to line up for the kickoff. Patrick wanted it to be in the center of the field, just like his teams at Georgia Southern did. Cecil recommended they line up to the side, informed by his years of watching high school kickers unable to cover the distance of the field from the center. They quibble every now and then over which players to use for kickoffs and extra points. Patrick will overrule Cecil at times when he sees a bad fit.

 “If most people walked out to our practice and watched it, they would have no idea they were father and son,” Craft said.

 But their synergy has also benefited North Forsyth. In their first season together again, Cecil walked up to Patrick during a game with a hunch that sending a high, short kickoff would flummox the opponent in to turning the ball over. It worked. Several games later, Patrick walked up to Cecil feeling the hunch himself to do it again.

 It worked.

 “He catches on really quickly,” Cecil said.

 Patrick says he’s now caught on to what drew his dad in to coaching in the first place. It is not the winning he saw Cecil enjoy all those years at Parkview, though that was fun. They’ve helped North Forsyth win some too, recently the Raiders have won nine games the previous two seasons combined and made the state playoffs last year for the first time since 2013.

 Instead, it was the relationships he saw Cecil build with players, and how that bond could inspire a 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid to play harder and focus more, to learn discipline and sacrifice, and to take those lessons into their life after their time in the game is done.

 “That’s what coaching’s about,” Patrick said. “Winning football games will come and go. … But the grand scheme of coaching is the relationships you get to build that are so unique.”


A good team

 Patrick and Cecil know the history of their relationship is unique. It’s rare that a dad gets to coach his son, and then coach together. Of course, having two Coach Flowes makes things a little confusing around North Forsyth, so Cecil goes by Coach Flowe, and Patrick goes by Coach Pat. Or the Raiders keep things even simpler and call them 1.0 (Cecil) and 2.0 (Patrick).

 As they walk to their trucks following spring practice that May evening, they’re not coaches anymore, not colleagues any longer. They’re dad and son talking about how Patrick, who has been living at home, will move out soon when he gets married.

 “My buddy’s going to be out of the house,” Cecil said.

 “Thirty days,” Patrick said, “and I’m out with the wife.”

 “And off the payroll!” Cecil adds.

 Little else will change for the Flowes for now. Both will be back with North Forsyth next season, roaming the same sidelines for a fourth year. They’ll quibble a bit, perhaps over some minutiae about special teams, but they know who they work for, and they know why they do it.

 They’re on the same team, and they plan to cherish the time while it lasts.

 “I love my son, and he loves me,” Cecil said. “I think we make a good team.”