By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (February 9, 2018) — Don’t bother asking Lonn Reisman about it.
I can save you the trouble because I’ve asked him, leading up to or immediately following his last dozen or more coaching milestones.
The man who resurrected Tarleton State men’s basketball and transformed it first into a Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association and NAIA Division II power, then into a Lone Star Conference and NCAA Division II buzz-saw, always answers the same way.
“What does this latest milestone mean to you and your career?” I ask, or something of the sort.
“It just means I’m getting old,” is always the answer, followed by his hearty laugh and the obligatory ‘yeah right,’ chuckle from yours truly.
Let’s cut right to the chase.
Coach Reisman, that’s crap.
Yes, we’ve all heard the playoff post-game press conference speech you have down so pat. Your son is great; you’ve had many wonderful assistant coaches, administrators, managers, and of course players through the years. Yes, we all love Foul Play, the Plowboys and Pankus, even the Purple Poo. Yeah, it’s the Wisdom Gym aura, the Tarleton brand and the great university that backs all that you do.
And yes, coach, I agree. Give God all the glory for the victory(ies).
But let’s be real, Coach Reisman. Let’s give credit where it’s due.
All that is there and will continue to be when you are a plaque on a wall, a name on a court – this has to happen one day, right? – a face among those in the athletics hall of fame. When your players today have grandchildren asking who is Lonn Reisman (and no doubt pronouncing it Rise-man) as they walk past, through and around the aptly named athletic complex at the currently under-construction remodeled version of Memorial Stadium.
But there is only one you.
One good season is about a team. String a few together and you are building a program with university support and all the fun stuff that comes with it.
But establishing the enduring legacy of success that Tarleton basketball has achieved these past 30 years is not a result of those things.
It’s about you.
You know why Tarleton has put up with 30 years of your clipboard-breaking, foot-stomping, player-scolding, ref-berating, score table-kicking, fist-pumping, arm-raising, tie-removing fire and brimstone style of coaching?
I’ll tell you why.
Because you’re one of the greatest boy-to-men transforming, university-branding, tight-defending, game-winning, victory-amassing, net-cutting, God-fearing leaders any sport ever knew.
You typify what is great about sports. It’s not just because games are the ultimate in reality entertainment as you never know on a given night what performance you will get. It’s because sports so often reveal character, show us who is calm enough, clutch enough, fiery enough, man enough to be the one standing in the end, the one who always comes through.
You took over a basketball program at a ho-hum university barely more than a college at the time of your arrival and you laid out the model for all young coaches to follow. At least any young coach who dreams of sticking somewhere and creating a legacy as opposed to riding the bus in and winning enough games to fly first class out, if you know what I’m saying.
And, yes, we know, you could have hopped aboard that plane years ago. There are droves of Division I programs that would have received hundreds-to-one return on their investment if they had sent a charter plane with a seat for all Reismen, Reiswomen, Reischildren and, yes, Rush, even Reisgrandchildren and flown them off to the bright lights of major college basketball.
But you stayed where you were loved. You stayed with what you love. You stayed at Tarleton. And Tarleton loves you.
It’s no coincidence that the golden age of growth at Tarleton State University, now 13,000 students strong with satellite campuses growing rampantly and the home base in Stephenville one of the most beautiful sites North Central Texas has to offer overlaps the ridiculously successful past two decades of NCAA baseketball played by the Texans.
Walk the campus. Tell me I’m wrong. Constant construction or not, awe striking is the most relevant term I know. And isn’t that fitting, that construction always abounds. Any successful ole ball coach will tell you success is always under construction.
Then university president Dr. Dennis McCabe said to me in a radio interview in the early 2000s, back when Tarleton first explored the possibility of climbing the ladder to NCAA Division I, that he hoped to never see the day that Tarleton had become a stagnant university.
That day isn’t coming any time soon. Surely not with men like Reisman around.
So many great universities have had their growth associated, at least somewhat, with a major athletic figure. You mean to tell me Jim Calhoun hasn’t been valuable to the University of Connecticut, Mike Krzyzewski to Duke, Dean Smith and then Roy Williams to North Carolina?
Lonn Reisman to Tarleton State?
In all fairness, Reisman has already won 650 games as a head coach. He’s won 670, in fact, when you add his lone year heading up the junior college program at Connors State College. The next year, thanks to the late Tarleton president Dr. Barry B. Thompson, athletic director Dr. Joe Gillespie and others, Reisman was hired at Tarleton, to be a Texan, and to become, for many people, the face of Tarleton State University.
Only 15 active coaches of the hundreds leading men’s basketball programs in the Division I and Division II ranks of the NCAA have achieved 650 wins, with former Texas and current Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes the latest to join the elite fraternity.
Lonn Reisman will be next. It will be another benchmark achievement in the 30-year Tarleton career of one of the world’s all-time greatest leaders of young men. He’s also one of the greatest coaches his sport has ever known.
What does 650 wins mean, whenever the next Tarleton victory should come?
It further solidifies that you, Coach, are a legend. A hero. A warrior who has withstood the test of time and built a lasting legacy of which Tarleton and everyone associated with you and your program can forever be proud.
You’re the greatest coach I’ve ever known.
And because you can not 650 games overnight, Coach, to an extent, is right.
It means he’s getting old, too.