Flanagan, A Profile And The Next Big Ten Coach

It was never fun for opposing centers to see Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus lined up across the line of scrimmage.

For Detroit Lions center Ed Flanagan, it was a rivalry that was played out twice a year from 1965 to 1973.

Flanagan, who starred at Purdue before launching a 12-year NFL career, once described Butkus as “a wild man on defense, one of the most foul-mouthed guys in the league. He insults you, your mother, and the team.”

Butkus was not above spitting down the back of Flanagan’s neck, either.

Flanagan died May 10 in his hometown of Altoona, Pa., at the age of 79 of heart failure, the Altoona Mirror reported. His family announced that Flanagan’s brain was donated to the center for the study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) at Boston University.

Flanagan earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 1964, snapping the ball to future College and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese. Flanagan only started one season in high school and one season at Purdue.

“I was never a star,” Flanagan told Jim Lane of the Altoona Mirror upon his induction into the inaugural class of the Blair County (Pa.) Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.

“I guess it shows it’s never too late.”

His coach at Purdue, Jack Mollenkopf, was known for developing linemen and Flanagan was one of his best.

“You name what you want done and Ed can do it,” Mollenkopf said. “He’s a steady player and a darned good one.”

That lack of starting experience didn’t stop the Lions from selecting Flanagan in the fifth round of the 1965 NFL Draft. It proved to be a steal. Flanagan was selected to the NFL all-rookie team and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection while starting every game for the next nine seasons, a span of 129 games.

Flanagan was chosen to the Lions’ all-time team in 2019.

“He was an outstanding center,” his former position coach and later NFL head coach Chuck Knox told The Detroit News in 2014. “He had been a wrestler in high school and college and had good balance. Plus, he was tough and smart.”

Flanagan signed with the San Diego Chargers in 1975 and started for two seasons before retiring.

The next great Big Ten coach?

Like the NFL, there’s no offseason these days for college football and the media that cover the sport.

Normally, an online story in May making “bold predictions” about Big Ten Conference football in 2023 is worth the paper it’s written on.

But this Fansided column by John Buhler lived up to its bold billing.

Matt Rhule guiding Nebraska to a bowl game in his first season qualifies. The Cornhuskers haven’t been in the postseason since losing 38-24 to Tennessee in the 2016 Music City Bowl.

Slightly less bold is Buhler’s prediction that the Ferentz era ends at Iowa when head coach Kirk’s son, Brian, is fired as offensive coordinator by athletic director Gary Barta. The younger Ferentz will only keep his job if the Hawkeyes average 25 points a game this season.

Iowa ranked 12th in the Big Ten a year ago with its 17.7 scoring average. Buhler predicts the Hawkeyes will fall short, leading to Kirk Ferentz’s resignation when his son is fired. Buhler’s prediction for the new Iowa head coach? Former Hawkeye and current Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops.

Buhler also predicts two Big Ten teams in the College Football Playoff and unhappy Michigan State boosters will try to force out coach Mel Tucker.

The No. 1 bold prediction? “Ryan Walters emerges as the Big Ten’s new coaching rock star at Purdue.”

“Walters picked a fantastic spot to be a first-time head coach,” Buhler wrote, probably the first time fantastic and Purdue football have been in the same sentence in decades.

“Purdue isn’t going 10-2, but Walters could go 8-4 in his first season at the helm.

“Even if Walters does not achieve what (Jeff) Brohm did in West Lafayette, he will be a strong college football head coach we will talk about for well over a decade.

“There is a chance the Walters hire could be as good as Sonny Dykes at TCU or Brian Kelly at LSU.”

Dykes led TCU to a 13-2 record and a berth in the College Football Playoff during his first season. Kelly went 10-4 in his first season at LSU after his shocking departure from Notre Dame.

Unmentioned by Buhler is another reason why Walters could make his bold prediction come true: the transfer portal.

It is possible that many of the seven new starters on defense will come from the portal. Incoming cornerbacks Braxton Myers (Mississippi), Salim Turner-Muhammad (Stanford) and Marquis Wilson (Penn State) could be paired with, or challenge, veteran Jamari Brown.

Jeffrey M’Bba (Auburn), Malik Langham (Vanderbilt) and Isaiah Nichols (Arkansas) will compete to replace Branson Deen (Miami, Fla.), Lawrence Johnson (Auburn) and Jack Sullivan (USC).

Transfers also are likely to fill the holes left on the offensive line by the departures of Spencer Holstege to UCLA and Eric Miller to Louisville. Ben Farrell (Indiana Wesleyan), Jalen Grant (Bowling Green), Luke Griffin (Missouri) and Preston Nichols (UNLV) are among the candidates.

The portal also restocked the quarterback room with Hudson Card (Texas) the presumed starter and Bennett Meredith (Arizona State) competing for the No. 2 job with incoming freshman Ryan Browne and West Lafayette graduate Kyle Adams.

– Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.