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Flynn’s innovative career recognized with Bob Basten Award

Mark Flynn ’78 has drawn inspiration from both his college football coach John Gagliardi and his business mentor Bill Campbell.

And his efforts in carrying on both of their legacies is why he has been named this year’s recipient of the Bob Basten Award.

The award is bestowed annually upon a former Johnnie football player who demonstrates outstanding leadership traits, actively engages with the community and alma mater, exhibits fair play beyond the football field and upholds a strong commitment to excellence.

Gagliardi was the head coach for 60 seasons at Saint John’s University, winning four national titles and finishing his career with 489 career victories – the most of any head coach in college football history. Campbell was a major influence on such heavy hitters as Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google’s Eric Schmidt while serving as CEO of Intuit and Board Chair at Columbia University.

Flynn said both were innovators who recognized the broader potential of football. 

“They recognized it was a beautiful game to be enjoyed,” Flynn said. “But they also saw that it could be a platform to position players to do great things with the rest of their lives.”

Mark Flynn with Bob Basten Award

Mark Flynn ’78 and other former Johnnies gather at this year’s Campbell Trophy Summit held at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Others on hand include: (from left, front row) Chris Backes ‘21, Flynn (with Campbell Trophy), Carter Hanson ‘17 and Stephen Johnson ’13; and (back row) Rob Culligan ‘82, Brandon Novak ‘01, Blake Elliott ‘03, Tom Kost ‘78, Scott Becker ‘77, Will Gillach ‘19 and Mark Muedeking ’77.

Flynn was a member of the 1976 Division III national championship squad at SJU, then showcased his skills as a standout linebacker during his senior season the following year. His critical interception in the final minute preserved a 25-20 Homecoming victory over St. Thomas in 1977.

He then embarked on a successful professional journey, where he put into practice the values of innovation, integrity and leadership. He spent 15 years in investment banking before establishing Trilogy Capital Partners LLC, a private investment firm based in Menlo Park, California. Subsequently, he served as President and Board Member of GSV Capital, a late-stage venture capital firm. In 2017, he founded MWF Advisors to continue his work with entrepreneurs in building growth companies.

Throughout his career, Flynn remained committed to nurturing future talent, mentoring young entrepreneurs and giving back to the community.

Campbell’s commitment to some of those same ideals is reflected through the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is named in his honor and has been presented annually since 1990 to the player at any level of college football who most exemplifies success on the field, in the classroom and in the community.

Flynn coached an eighth-grade football team for 15 seasons alongside Campbell, and served with him on corporate boards. Since Campbell’s death in 2016, Flynn has played a leading role in preserving his legacy, including organizing the Campbell Trophy Summit.

The annual event, hosted at Stanford, welcomes former nominees for the award and gathers around 300 former college football players for three days of learning from renowned leaders like Condoleezza Rice, Admiral Bill McRaven and Steve Young.

For the past 20 years, Saint John’s has led the country in nominating players for the Campbell Trophy, often referred to as the “Academic Heisman,” and has had four finalists, most recently All-American defensive lineman Michael Wozniak in 2022.

“Leadership values are instilled in everything you do at Saint John’s,” Flynn said. “That’s what the Campbell Trophy is about as well – excellence on and off the field. These men demonstrate values that extend beyond the confines of the game, shaping them into not only better athletes but better human beings.”

A 1984 graduate of the Harvard Business School, Flynn is a former member of the SJU Board of Regents, served as Chair of the Endowment Committee and founded of the SJU Private Investment Fund. He has been instrumental in numerous initiatives, such as organizing the Bay Area for the Entrepreneur Scholars Program, hosting alumni gatherings and championing the campaign to induct former SJU All-American wide receiver Blake Elliott ’03 into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Beyond the CSB and SJU community, he has also been a member of the board of directors of the DAPER Fund at Stanford University, which raises money for the school’s athletic program, as well as the boards of several privately held companies.

It’s all part of a commitment to service the Sturbridge, Massachusetts, native said was instilled in him by his parents.

“I had the great fortune to follow the example of great role models. My parents instilled fundamental values of compassion, humility, integrity, character and faith. My wife Diane (an Edina native) and our three children have truly been my greatest gift, inspiration and joy.”

Flynn said those traits were amplified during the years he spent at SJU.

“Saint John’s is an incredible place and there is a bond that’s formed among and between Johnnies,” he said. “There is a common thread that you share, and hopefully you carry that out into the world and do great things. Part of the mission at Saint John’s is to position you to strive for greatness, push boundaries and pursue your dreams and ambitions in a way that embraces values such as humility, respect and compassion.

“These are traditions that never graduate. You carry them with you long after you leave Collegeville.” 

The Basten Award is named in honor of Bob Basten ’82, who went to training camp with the Minnesota Vikings before embarking on a successful career as a business executive. He died in 2012 after a decades-long battle with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Flynn is scheduled to be presented with the honor at halftime of SJU’s season opener against Trinity University (Texas) Sept. 2 at Clemens Stadium.

“Mark has demonstrated a commitment to excellence and overall sense of fair play that I think embodies the ideals Bob Basten had in mind with this award,” wrote his SJU teammate Scott Becker ’77 in his letter nominating Flynn for the award. “His humility is evident as he is always looking to give credit rather than receive it.”

“Mark has helped dozens of Johnnies and Bennies get started in their careers as their mentor and he is always ‘on call’ as they navigate their careers. I am hard-pressed to think of a better role model for all Johnnies.”

Flynn graduated a year before Basten arrived in Collegeville. But Johnnies head coach Gary Fasching ’81 played with both men during his own playing career at SJU, and he agrees that Flynn could not be a more deserving recipient.

“Mark Flynn is the embodiment of what the Bob Basten Award is about,” Fasching wrote. “He is a leader and has been a model of excellence throughout his career. Mark was the ultimate teammate at Saint John’s and treated everyone with great respect.

“He has gone on to great things in both his personal and professional life and has never lost his sense of kindness and passion for Saint John’s. Mark has given back to SJU and has made a difference in a multitude of ways.  As a former teammate of both Bob and Mark, I know Bob would be very proud that Mark Flynn is the recipient of the 2023 Bob Basten Award.”

Past winners

Mark and Diane Flynn

Mike Flynn ’78 and his wife, Diane, have been staunch supporters of Saint John’s for decades.