Former offensive lineman John Flath came to FSU as a member of the Seminoles’ 1988 recruiting class with a plan to major in business, play college football and then move into his professional life after graduation. The now 27-year coaching veteran at both the high school and college level says a car ride while working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during his last semester at Florida State changed his career path. And he has never looked back.
The three-time FSU letter-winner is currently the offensive line coach at Leesburg (Ga.) Lee County High School. He has spent his coaching career in Florida or Georgia, including 13 years in the Orlando area with stops at Lake Highland Prep (Flath’s alma mater), Edgewater High, Seminole High, University High and Apopka High. Flath coached the offensive line at Lakeland (Fla.) High School from 2006-2012 where he tutored Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, both of whom would sign with Florida before moving on to careers in the NFL. Flath then moved on to the college level where he spent four seasons at Southeastern University before moving back to the prep ranks in Georgia.
Flath is also a husband and a proud father to two sons, who have both graduated from college. He and his wife, Megan, have been married for 26 years. The two first met when they were 10 years old at church but didn’t start dating until after John graduated from FSU.
“Her heart is for the lord and our family,” Flath said of Megan. “She is an amazing coach’s wife. We have two sons, Caleb (25) and Jake (22). Both boys played at Lakeland Senior, and Jake went on to be a three-year starter at Mercer before graduating in December.”
When did you first begin to think that you might want to coach?
When I went to FSU I had two goals, be the first person in my family to graduate from college and play out my eligibility. I didn’t give what was next a second thought until my last semester. I should’ve known because next to my parents the most influential people in my life were coaches.
Why did you ultimately decide to coach?
In my last semester I started interviewing with companies that came to FSU, nothing stuck. I spent a day riding around north Florida with Ernie Stevenson visiting schools and coaches with FCA. A few weeks later I was at an FCA event and spent some time with Ernie, Doug Scott and Coach Jim Scroggins. They were pushing the merits of coaching. The next week the head coach from my high school asked me to come coach spring ball after graduation. I had a blast and within a year I knew that it was my calling.
What is your favorite thing about being a coach?
It never feels like a job. It is bigger than me. It is meaningful every day. A group of people, even a community of people, pulling in the same direction.
What is the most gratifying thing about being a coach?
I love to see a kid develop and mature as a player and a person throughout your time with them.
What coach or coaches at FSU impacted your decision to be a coach and what did you learn from them that you apply to your own coaching style and how you handle players on and off the field?
I felt like the staff was so together, they spoke the same language about everything related to ball. I felt like anyone of them could coach a different position and not miss a beat. If I had to pick one or two, it would be Dr. John Eason, who was our receivers coach, and Dave Van Halanger, who was our strength coach. Doc Eason is a big man, but you almost never heard him raise his voice. He cared about our academics and treated everyone the same. Coach Van was not just a strength coach, but he was a spiritual leader and I always felt he was interested in me more than as a player and he was very accessible.
What do you want your former players to say about you 20 years from now?
I hope they would say that he was a great coach, but that he cared about more than ball. That he made me a better man and cared about me.
You coached both of you sons at the high school level. What was that like and what were the challenges and rewards of coaching your sons?
I coached Caleb for three years. He and I were nose-to-nose a lot. We had to come to an agreement that I was going to coach him hard, and it could continue in the car on the way home. But once we pulled into the driveway at home it was over. Jake was very clear that he didn’t want me to be his coach. He said, “Just be my dad.” Fortunately, when he came through I was coaching college so I was able to just be his dad and fan.
What has changed the most about football since your playing days?
Obviously, every generation talks about how much harder it was. I think the nature of the game was more physical than it is now. The spread offense and “grass basketball” style has contributed to that. Big picture, the 20-hour rule, reduction to 85 scholarships, no two-a-days, and the transfer portal all have impacted the game. I think the impact of the Internet, social media in recruiting, transferring and on-and-on has taken away some of the value of the experience for the player but are not exclusive to football.
Looking back on it now what impact has your experience at FSU had on your life?
My time at FSU confirmed and reinforced the lessons my parents were instilling. I am not who I am today without being a part of that program. The growth I experienced and the relationships with teammates shaped me, impacted my beliefs. It made me a man, gave me a career and provided a lifetime of relationships.
There is a lot going on in the United States right now including a world wide pandemic with COVID-19 and the subject of racial equality that has led to both peaceful protest but also riots around the country. Have you had to address these issues with your players and how have you addressed it?
The racial issues hurt. I saw Dabo Swinney wearing a Football Matters shirt that drew criticism. I believe the point is that football is one of the biggest racism-busting experiences we can provide our young people. To have shared struggle, work together, count on each other and develop relationships. Anybody that spends a period of their life with that locker room experience that is specific to football, they are going to be different. Football is like life – it is hard, we need each other to get through and achieve. Some of the most real discussions about race and life experiences that I’ve had were riding to and from FSU with Deondri Clark and Willie Pauldo. The more we are together and get to understand that we all want the same things the better we will become. Racism and ignorance are real. We are not going to eliminate its existence, but we can certainly overcome and be agents of change in the experiences we provide our players and their experience with us. Speaking out to that effect with our teams, but even more with our everyday lives.
What are your first impressions of Mike Norvell?
He has a tough job and I think he has done a great job of cleaning up and refocusing the program. We have to allow him to be Mike Norvell, and not expect him to be Coach Bowden or anyone else.