'Change is good...'

Tom Batters
Paul Bryant

Paul Bryant could have taken a job in Mesa, Ariz., where the sun always shines and there is no such thing as an ice storm.

But he fell in love with Eureka College after just one visit here in 2008, and, despite occasional teasing from his family, he said he made a great decision.

“In the winter, when we have a power outage or below-zero temperatures, my wife will say, ‘We could be in Arizona.’ And she laughs about it,” Bryant said, smiling.

Bryant was named Eureka College director of athletics in 2008. He interviewed at Eureka and at Mesa Community College, but he never considered migrating to the warmer climate.

“When I visited here, everybody said hello and held the door open for me. I thought, ‘is this staged?’ But, I later realized that is just the Eureka way. Everybody cares about each other here. I knew this is where I wanted to be.”

In Bryant’s brief administration, the athletic department has undergone sweeping changes.

He hired several new coaches including football coach Kurt Barth and baseball coach Craig Gerdes.

Four teams made the postseason conference tournament for the first time in their history.

More than 80 student athletes qualified for the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll, which Bryant created.

Bryant initiated several athletic facilities improvement projects. Last year, the renovation of the Traister Field soccer facilities was completed. It is now one of the top facilities in all of Division III soccer.

“We had to make some changes (when I first got here),” he said. “Change isn’t always bad. Change can be good. We’ve made strides on and off the field, and there is still more to be done.”

The road to Eureka...

Bryant, the oldest son whose parents were both pastors, was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio.

He said he never went through the “PK kid” revolt that some pastor’s kids experience.

“I have never had a drink of alcohol and I have never smoked anything,” he said. “Being the oldest, I always tried to be a good leader, and I had great parents and coaches who were positive influences on me.”

Bryant has a biological brother and sister, and eight adopted siblings.

He said his parents were always supportive of his athletic career, even if they weren’t the most knowledgeable sports fans.

He laughed when he said:

“One time, I had two slam dunks in a basketball game. After the game, my dad said, ‘Those were two good touchdowns you had there.’ He didn’t know much about it, but he was always there to cheer for me.”

Bryant played basketball at North Idaho College and Alaska Pacific University before embarking on a successful coaching career at Sinclair Community College (Dayton) and Urbana (Ohio) University.

He said he wanted to become a forensic psychologist before he was (somewhat by chance) thrown into a coaching career.

His first job out of college was as a youth worker at the Dayton Jewish Center.

“In my interview, they said, ‘you played basketball? How would you like to be our basketball coach?’ I said, ‘sure, I’ll give it a try.’ I loved it. I loved teaching young people the game of basketball,” he said.

In his first year as a college head coach, Bryant led Sinclair to a 29-5 record (after the team finished 11-13 the previous season) and a spot in the Junior College national championship game.

“I attribute that to the players,” he said. “They bought into what I was teaching. They were willing to change from a slow-paced game to an up-tempo game, and it worked.”

In 2004, at the age of 40, he suffered a heart attack.

Doctors told him he had to make some changes, which meant he would have to tone down his passionate, emotional coaching style.

“I decided it was time to retire from coaching,” he said. “If I couldn’t give it my all, then I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had also lost my dad (in 2004), who was my biggest supporter, and I just felt like it was time to do something else.”

In December of 2007, he retired from coaching.

He said he thought about running his own foster care agency, since he and his wife (Shannon) previously operated the Learn to Lead youth services agency in Dayton for eight years.

“That would have been a good job, but my passion was athletics,” he said.

Bryant, who earned a master’s of education degree from Urbana University, served as interim athletic director for one year while he as coaching at Urbana.

“The administrative side of things came naturally to me, because leadership for me started when I was a child,” he said.

So, his coaching career was over, but the future was still uncertain.

“I had no idea what would happen. I told my wife to just give me three months and I would find a job,” he said. “After my interview at Eureka, I told her that I had found the place where I wanted to be.”

Fresh paint...

A few days after accepting the job, Bryant drove from Dayton to Eureka to spend the day walking around campus.

“I looked around and said to myself, ‘some things have to change.’ I heard a lot about Eureka Pride. Well, I wanted to bring that back,” he said.

He enlisted a few students to put a fresh coat of paint on all the athletic office walls, so that they glimmered in red and gold, instead of dull white.

He ordered new sweat suits for all the athletic teams, so that they all wore the same Eureka colors when traveling to away games.

He lit a fire under his coaching staff and placed a strict emphasis on recruiting quality student athletes to Eureka.

“Some people were not on board, so there had to be changes...,” he said. “Recruiting is the life blood of an athletic program. I wanted coaches who had a passion for coaching and a true pride in this college. Then, I wanted them to use that passion to go out and recruit the best kids they could get to come here and play and get a great education.”

Bryant said he tries to get to know each athlete at Eureka College by name. He calls them “my student athletes.”

“I know they aren’t mine, but I like to think of them that way,” he said.

Family time

Bryant and his wife, Shannon, have two children (Kayla, 16; and Paul, 10). Kayla plays basketball at Eureka High School.

“She’s a very good player, but her real strength is in the classroom. She wants to be a judge. She said, ‘when you come to visit me in court, you’re going to have to stand up, or I’ll hold you in contempt,” he said, laughing. “Paul wants to do everything his sister does. He’s pretty good at soccer, too.”

Bryant, 44, is also a grandfather. His adopted daughter, Brittany, has a three-year-old daughter.

In his free time, he enjoys reading and watching basketball.

“I still love basketball, as you can see,” he said, pointing to the assortment of hoops pictures on his office wall. “I may not be a coach anymore, but I still have passion for the game.”