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News Bill Fleischman, a lode star for UD journalism students

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Students remember an unforgettable teacher
Former adjunct professor Bill Fleischman, who died May 1, 2019

Former adjunct professor Bill Fleischman, who taught sports writing and editing at UD for 28 years, was "your friend; your mentor; your confidant; your outlet," as one former student described him.

Bill Fleischman taught sports writing and editing as an adjunct with the Journalism Program for 28 years. He died at 80 on May 1 after a battle with cancer.

Shortly after Bill's funeral, I asked his wife, Barbara, whether he would have been embarrassed by all the love shown him at memorials and on social media.

"Perhaps Bill would have felt a little self-conscious because he always put the focus on others," she said. But he also "would have found it heartwarming that his peers wanted to share with others their appreciation of his character and accomplishments."

That Bill always focused on others was clear the minute I met him. And if those others were students, so much the better. I had the great gift of knowing Bill for three years and then largely in the context of his relationship with the Journalism Program. About three out of every four emails from Bill would include some version of "how are the students doing?" In the fourth email, he would begin by asking about the students.  

Students may not realize that all teachers want the best for their students, but Bill's students always knew that he was rooting for them. He was cheering in full voice and waving them toward the finish line. I know that Bill is still teaching them, through that little voice in their heads, the tug of an instinct or the impulse to reach for the Associated Press stylebook. A teacher of Bill's caliber never stops teaching.

If you check online, you'll find post after tweet after share by Bill's former students. A few of them offered to share their personal stories about Bill, and you'll find those stories below. 

Plans are in the works for a fall gathering to remember and celebrate Bill. If you'd like to get the details of that celebration, send a note to

- Deborah Gump, Journalism Program director

'Yer old perfessor ... a great man'

Matt DaSilva, '04

Bill reserved bragging rights for his students, seldom touting his own accomplishments, impressive as they were. For a small journalism program, UD has produced some powerhouse sports writers, and "yer old perfessor," as he humbly referred to himself, is largely responsible for that legacy. But he'd certainly never say so. 

Bill also made sure that we Review/UD grads stayed connected to and looked out for each other. It still makes me proud, for some reason, when I see Jeff Gluck crushing the NASCAR beat, even though Gluck was the one who shepherded me toward opportunities at The Review and News Journal. That was really Bill's influence. A great man, indeed.

'You knew ... he was always going to be a part of your life.'

Tara Finnegan Coates, '92, her eulogy for Bill 

Tara Coates with Bill Fleischman

Former student Tara Coates with her "coach," Bill Fleischman. 

My name is Tara Coates and I’m a former student of Bill’s at UD.

Saying “goodbye” to Bill  is hard. I think that’s because, I don’t think I ever heard him say the word “goodbye.”

He always ended emails and conversations with, “keep in touch” or “take care.” You see, Bill was someone who chose his words carefully. I don’t think he believed in saying goodbye simply because he was so good about keeping in touch with his students and he never planned on falling out of touch. In fact, if any of us were a bit delayed in responding to an email or a voicemail, we got a slight reprimand. “Don’t know if you got my message/email” ...

I can’t remember a month going by where Bill and I didn’t communicate in some form: a letter, a phone call, an email, a text. I have about 60 emails from Bill dating back to 2007, which I have read, looking for inspiration on what to say today. And the times we would actually be able to see each other in person were always special.

Bill gave so much of himself to us – his advice, his time. He would make a call on our behalf for a job recommendation or help us track down a good person to talk to for a story. The only thing he seemed to expect from us students in return was just to know that we were doing OK. By the time you graduated, you knew that even though you left Bill’s classroom, his teachings were always with you and he was always going to be a part of your life.

Bill would be at your wedding. Beside you on press row. He was always a phone call or email away. He was a fantastic listener. He was the gentlest, kindest and most patient man I knew. 

Many of Bill’s former students still called him Professor Fleischman after they graduated. I started calling him "Coach." As anyone who has played or covered sports knows, coaches have a special bond with their players. And players have a respect for a coach that transcends all relationships. I feel like we are all a part of a team, and we were blessed to learn from a legend.

I was fortunate to see Bill three times within the past year and even though his health fluctuated, his interest in and concern for his former students never wavered. I am grateful that I was able to thank him for not only helping me get my start in journalism, but more importantly, tell him that his friendship and support over the years has meant the world to me. I also want to thank Barb and his family for sharing him with us. We are all better people for having him in our lives.

Take care, Coach. 

'Kindness. Empathy. Understanding. Decency.'

Jeff Pearlman, '94, blog post about Bill

When famous people die, they are often hailed as being “larger than life.” Elvis was larger than life. Tupac was larger than life. Ronald Reagan was larger than life. Marilyn Monroe was larger than life. Michael Jackson was larger than life. Frank Sinatra was larger than life. Whitney Houston was larger than life. Frank Robinson was larger than life.

It’s meant as a compliment, which I understand. But in many ways, the people I’ve met who are deemed “larger than life” excel at draining oxygen from the room. They’re often those who need the attention; who have to be the center of things; who want you to hang on their every word. I remember once, long ago, dining with a supermodel at the height of her career. We were at a lengthy dinner table - probably a dozen of us - and she had a strange unspoken insistence on the world revolving around her. She was beautiful and sexy and famous and, well, larger than life.

All I wanted to do was retreat to my room for pizza and a made-for-TV movie.

Bill Fleischman, the longtime Philadelphia Daily News sports writer/editor who died today at 80, was not larger than life. He wasn’t even close to larger than life. He didn’t need to be heard. He didn’t want the buzz. Take Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, flip them 180, and you have Bill.

Kindness. Empathy. Understanding. Decency.

An Inquirer Daily News column by Bill Fleischman

We first met back in the early 1990s, when I was a young student at the University of Delaware and Bill was an adjunct professor teaching two classes - newspaper layout and sports journalism. He was, from the beginning, my all-time favorite teacher. First, because he was doing it. The journalism faculty members at Delaware were excellent, but many had been in and out of the reporting game and hadn’t had a byline in eons. Bill, on the other hand, didn’t just tell. He showed. There were his bylines, right in front of us, on the pages of a big-time newspaper. He could talk to us about what it was to cover the Flyers during their 1970s heyday; could talk to us about Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose and Dr. J and Ron Jaworski. Once, he took our entire class to the Vet for a Phillies game, and landed us a 20-minute Q&A session with Jim Fregosi, Philly’s manager. I was blown away.

Best of all, Bill cared. Like, he really, really, really cared. About me. About the kid next to me. He took journalism very personally, and desperately wanted you to share that passion. And if you did (as I did. And Mike Freeman did. And Tara Finnegan did. And Dan Levine did. And Matt Konkle did. And Jeff Gluck did. And so many others did), you were in. Bill was your friend; your mentor; your confidant; your outlet. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times Bill handed me a piece of paper, or sliver of newsprint, with red pen circling a headline or paragraph. “Thought you should see this.” Even long after I left UD, he’d call with thoughts on the student newspaper. “You know, there’s this kid, Chris Yasiekjo. He wrote a profile of Tubby Raymond that’s really excellent …”

I’ve written about this plenty of times, but at Delaware I was a major f***-up. So many errors. So many lapses in judgement. And while the other professors (rightly) took me to task, Bill never did. He’d invite me to sit down, to chat. He let me know the bubble that is campus life wasn’t the real world, and that all things pass. Looking back, I think that perspective came with being an adjunct, and having a place (the legit journalism world) to escape to. There was always a game to cover. A profile to write.

Upon graduating in 1994, I immediately forgot the names and faces of 97 percent of my professors. But not Bill. We would talk, oh, every two months or so. He invited me to speak to his sports journalism class on multiple occasions, and would introduce me with a warning—”If you don’t like a few curse words, Jeff might not be your guy.” He attended my wedding, as well as the weddings of (this is an educated guess) dozens of other alum. Bill took tremendous pride in the success of his former students. Mike Freeman covering the NFL for the Times was his victory. Jeff Gluck becoming a NASCAR mainstay was Delaware (Delaware!) making an impact. He loved updating you on other alum—”Did you see Mike Lewis had a piece in the …” or “So have you spoken with Tara lately?” On the rare occasion Bill might brag, it wasn’t actually about him, but his wife. “Babs is back on the golf course again,” he’d say. “She even hit a few that went straight …”

One of the things that stands out to me about Bill is this - he wasn’t actually an all-time dazzling writer in the Rick Reilly sense of the word. And what I mean is, he was extremely good and extremely prolific and extremely dependable, but he wasn’t trying to knock your socks off and change your life with a Gary Smith-esque 700-word lede. Nope. What Bill boasted was far more important in this game: He was empathetic. He was understanding. He was smart. He was trustworthy. Sources confided in Bill, because he wouldn’t violate. He was Philly tough, but without any of the snarl or swagger. He didn’t take shit, but he didn’t need to remind you he didn’t take shit. He loved sports, but was nobody’s homer. He was a regional guy, but a Flyers loss was no skin off his back.

I was thinking earlier today about Bill’s impact on my existence. Yes, he was a wonderful teacher. And, yes, he was a tremendous sounding board. But more than anything, Bill Fleischman showed me that one can be unambiguously successful without bragging, boasting, hyping himself up.

You can be uniquely decent, and rest well with that as a legacy.

You don’t need to be larger than life to live largely.

'He encouraged me to work hard'

Shaun Gallagher, '02

I am, and have always been, pretty clueless about sports.  Nevertheless, I found myself in Bill Fleischman's sportswriting class, largely because I had enjoyed his copy editing and layout course so much and was eager to have him again as a professor.  He knew I came into the course with very little understanding of sports, but he encouraged me to work hard, and I was happy to receive a better grade in the course than I was expecting.

Almost a decade later, I excitedly emailed him to tell him that I had written my first sports story as a professional writer.  (Maybe I stretched the definition of a sports story. I was at The News Journal and had posted a short breaking-news alert about the first matchup between the University of Delaware and Delaware State University football teams.) In characteristic fashion, he emailed me back with words of encouragement: "Congratulations on your sports contribution.  I knew it would happen some day."

'He was a special kind of educator'

Laura (Overturf) Stetser, '99

I always say how fortunate I was to be part of this program at UD. For a such a large school, I always received individual attention, encouragement and advice from my wonderful professors, and it made a world of difference to my profession. Along with Dennis Jackson and Ben Yagoda, Bill took his time to make sure we were excited and properly suited up for the important and thrilling job of reporting by sharing his love and knowledge of the craft.

Just last year - 19 years after I graduated - Bill emailed me to inquire how my career was going and said he still had the grade books from my class (provided my exact grade as well). He was a special kind of educator and will be missed.

'Each one of us carried a little piece of him out into the journalism world'

Michael Lewis, '97

One day in December 1993 I received a piece of advice that would change my life forever.

I was a freshman at the University of Delaware, and after a semester of begging/writing whatever anyone would assign, the editors of the student newspaper, The Review, hired me on staff as an assistant sports editor.

After telling me the news, almost in an offhand way, the editor-in-chief, Jeff Pearlman, said one more thing.

"You should go see Bill Fleischman. He's in Memorial Hall. He's an adjunct professor. And he's an editor and a sportswriter at the Philadelphia Daily News."

With those words, I was out the door and making a mental note to myself to go see this Fleischman guy immediately.

Someone who works here, at little ole' Delaware, is currently on staff at a major American newspaper? And I can just ... walk up to his office and talk to him, and get writing advice?

Without knowing anything about him but what Jeff had told me, I was determined to make Bill Fleischman pay attention to me, and help me with this new writing thing I was so passionate about.

The next day, I went to find him at his office. He wasn't there, but I saw his schedule posted and showed up a few days later when I knew he'd be around.

Bill Fleischman in the classroom

​Bill Fleischman frequently returned to UD classrooms as a guest lecturer.

We chatted for about 20 minutes, and I was struck by how eager, how friendly, how knowledgeable this man seemed to be. He didn't know me at all, had never read anything I'd written, and yet he was so kind and gracious.

That began a 25-year friendship between this wonderful, sharp, funny man and yours truly. A friendship that I treasured as much as any in my life, one that helped me through so many good times, and a few bad ones.

A friendship that sadly has ended in this world, because last Wednesday morning, after a year-long battle with cancer, Bill Fleischman died at age 80.

We knew it was coming; the last several months have been rough, and our phone conversations got shorter and shorter. I'd say over the past quarter-century the longest I ever went without speaking to my greatest mentor was six weeks.

I drove down to Delaware on Friday for the viewing, and the funeral on Saturday morning. I got to spend a few minutes with his rock, his wife of 57 years, Barb, and I got to meet Bill's brother, his daughter and others he loved.

I renewed some acquaintances with people I hadn't seen in years; chatted with some old friends and met some new ones. We sat and talked and laughed about this wonderful human being we all knew and loved, and so many of us told the same stories.

I'd like to tell you a few of those about Bill Fleischman, because even for a few minutes, I'd like you to know a little about this fantastic man I was so fortunate to call a pal.

He was, above all else, kind. And decent. When I was a student he always critiqued my stories gently, even when they deserved an acid pen he instead used a feathery touch.

He taught copy editing and layout and cringed at my pathetic design skills. Always with a smile, he was telling me and others for years that I may have been the worst design student he'd ever had (I was really, really bad.)

But he was so proud of my accomplishments as a writer, and so proud of so many of his students. He was constantly telling me of what so and so had just written, and hey, did I read so and so just got a job at this place or that?

He cared deeply about so many of us pupils, since each one of us carried a little piece of him out into the journalism world.

Bill never bragged about himself, or what he'd accomplished: Covering the Philadelphia Flyers during their glory years of the 1970s, and helping put NASCAR on the map in the Northeast with his racing coverage long before the sport got big.

He never talked about the great tragedy of his life: The shocking death in a car accident of his 20-year-old daughter, Heather. Some subjects were just too painful, and we knew never to bring it up.

He had a quick wit, and an easy laugh, and was pretty good with a one-liner. He constantly changed his outgoing answering machine message on his phone, always producing a new joke or two about some race car driver's recent foibles, or the Phillies' hot streak. I never failed to chuckle when I called him.

As Bill was leaving my wedding in May 2013, he told me he had a great time, then added this:

"OK now, I've been to two of your weddings. I'm not coming to any more of your weddings!"

Don't worry Bill, I think this one is going to stick.

He wasn't a perfect man, of course: Bill was always ornery if you didn't respond to his emails promptly; to an old-school man like him, an email was like a phone call, something that should be dealt with right away.

Quite a few times I got emails with an opening line of "I don't know if you didn't see my email the other day ..."

Like a chagrined schoolkid, I always then dropped him a few words. (I discovered this weekend scores of people who got the same scolding emails from him, so I felt slightly better.)

Technology was not his friend. One of the longest afternoons I've ever spent in my life was three years ago, at a Starbucks in NYC, when over the phone I tried to teach him how to set up his blog. It was torturous; he was an old dog and I was trying to teach him new tricks and he just wasn't able to do it. (The looks I was getting from the other customers that day, who heard me trying in so much vain to explain how to create a new post were priceless.)

If it were anyone else, I would have lost my patience after 20 minutes and just said "the heck with it." But this was my friend, a man who'd been there for me for so long. And so I sat as the hours passed and progress was made ever so incrementally.

My life, and my career, have been immeasurably better because of Bill Fleischman. His friendship and guidance meant so much to me, and as I listened to the eulogies Saturday in a church in Wilmington, I laughed, I teared up, and I sat there feeling grateful that he let me into his inner circle.

Barb told me once that he used to call me and Pearlman and another prized ex-student, Jeff Gluck, "his boys."

I beamed when she said it. I'm beaming now, just thinking about it. What a special club to be in, to be one of Bill Fleischman's boys.

I will never see my old friend again, and that makes me sad.

But the sadness of what I will miss is far, far outweighed by the joy of what he gave me.

Goodbye, old friend. I'm sorry I never learned to love NASCAR like you wanted me to, I'm sorry you only got to meet one of my two sons, and I'm sorry your beloved Philadelphia Flyers always let you down (they sent a beautiful bouquet to the funeral, though, you'd be happy to know.)

It was my privilege to know you. Thank you for all you did for me, and for so many others.


Steve Russolillo with Bill Fleischman

​Former student Steve Russolillo with 'class act' Bill Fleischman at the 
retirement party for English professor Ben Yagoda.

'He genuinely cared. About everything.'

Steve Russolillo, '07

I took one of Professor Fleischman's courses over a decade ago. But the man really made his mark on me in the years after I graduated. He was so good about staying in touch with former students, myself included. He genuinely cared. About everything. About how I was doing in post-college life. About what kind of stories I was working on at The Wall Street Journal. About what my former classmates were up to. The guy had a huge heart, and it was evident every time we spoke. 

One particular email stands out. It was August 2011. As a young reporter, I had just published one of my first ever Page One stories. What made the moment even better was a note from Professor Fleischman. The subject line: "front-page steve!" 

He wrote: "Congratulations! Imagine, a guy who took Prof. Fleischman's Sports Writing class appearing on the front page of the WSJ." He was thrilled. And I was so stoked to receive a note like that. I never forgot that email.

The guy was a class act all around and will be deeply missed. RIP Bill.

Story published on 5/12/2019 ; last modified on
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​A professor's legacy is told by students. For Bill Fleischman, who taught sports writiing and editing for 28 years, that legacy is one of lifelong commitment to his students' success. 

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  • The Journalism Program
  • 221 Memorial Hall
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • 302-831-4921