University of Maine at Fort Kent Bengal men's basketball coach Carly Flowers on the sidelines of a game against UMPI at the UMFK Sport Center. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine — When University of Maine at Fort Kent athletic director Carly Flowers became head coach of the Bengal men’s basketball team this season, it did not occur to her that she would be one of only three women in the United States to hold such a position.

Flowers stepped into the coaching job while UMFK was searching for a replacement for Tom Bird, who resigned as the men’s coach in September.

Flowers is the only woman to helm a men’s team in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association division. There are only two other female head coaches for men’s college basketball teams: Sarah Gayler at the NAIA school Brescia University in Kentucky and Tamara Moore, the first Black woman to coach men’s college basketball, at the Mesabi Range campus of Minnesota North.

“I didn’t think anything of it, me being a woman and coaching,” Flowers said. “It didn’t even cross my mind until somebody else brought it up. To me it’s just coaching.”

Flowers and Gayler are both athletic directors at their respective universities as well.

Along with hiring, Flowers’ duties as athletic director include overseeing all sports teams, managing the Sport Center and finding ways to bring more fans to games.

As a means to the latter, she approved implementing a beer garden at sporting events as a way to raise money for the teams.

“Hopefully it will take off and get more popular as people get used to it,” she said.

Flowers said she hasn’t noticed any difference compared to when she was head coach of a women’s team at a community college in California.

Everyone has been respectful and treated her like a coach, she said.

If her demeanor on the sidelines at the UMFK Sport Center is any indication, Flowers is not easily ruffled.

University of Maine at Fort Kent Bengal men’s basketball coach Carly Flowers guides her team during a game against UMPI at the UMFK Sport Center in November 2022. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

“My style is just to talk through things and teach stuff. I’m not a yeller and a screamer,” she said. “I try to stay calm because the players feed off of that, and I need them to stay composed. I am mostly thinking about what needs to happen next — if I need to make a substitution or make other changes. I am also watching what the other team is doing and looking for things we can adjust to take advantage of that.”

Still, she said she has high expectations for the Bengal men, whose record is 2-8 as of Dec. 23, and believes the team can experience success. She is trying to get them to believe in themselves so that she can build a team that works hard and improves during the year, Flowers said.

The Bengals already believe in her.

“We respect her. She knows what she’s doing,” junior guard Micah Petty said. “She emphasizes playing with purpose.”

Flowers played basketball at Baldwin Wallace College, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in exercise science. She also holds a master of science degree in allied health from Otterbein University, and has completed all coursework except her dissertation toward a doctorate in health and human performance from Concordia University in Chicago.

She has read about and researched a lot of coaches throughout the years, including legendary college basketball coaches Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee, Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina and John Wooden at UCLA, she said.

Her college coach, Cheri Harrer, also set a good example for her by working hard and being passionate about the work, Flowers said.

Having played basketball herself, Flowers said she can relate to the challenges her student athletes face in academics and in their personal lives.

“It’s a very challenging time for a lot of them, a time to learn about themselves and what they want. My goal, whether as a coach or athletic director, is to help them figure that out and guide them,” Flowers said.

As a child growing up in Ohio, Flowers said she was the only member of her family who took a shine to sports, and could be found scrimmaging against the boys because they provided better competition.  

Her mother taught her the meaning of hard work and independence, she said. “My mom always instilled in us you’ve got to figure stuff out on your own, and don’t rely on other people. That’s always been my mindset, be straight forward and do what you want to do.”

If there is a downfall to living in northern Maine, Flowers said it’s that east coast sports teams are broadcast in favor of those based in the midwest, particularly the NBA team to which she holds herself loyal, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I’m a big Ohio–everything fan,” she said with a chuckle. “Every time I turn the TV on, I have to watch the Celtics.”