By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (December 29, 2015) — As he walks around his office he looks up into the faces of every one of them. All 28 teams he’s coached at Tarleton State University.
Lonn Reisman is approaching yet another milestone at the school he’s led to so many before, his 600th win at Tarleton just two victories away with two games on tap later this week inside the friendly confines of Wisdom Gym where he has guided teams that have written and re-written the Tarleton record book.
Tarleton hosts Southeastern Oklahoma State at 4 p.m. Thursday, then doubles up with the TexAnns against Cameron (Okla.) to begin Lone Star Conference play at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday.
Reisman has guided Tarleton to five Lone Star Conference divisional titles, two LSC league wide regular season championships, three LSC tournament titles, three South Central Region championships and Elite Eight appearances and two final fours.
Reisman and the Texans also won two Southwest Region titles, three Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships and two NAIA District 8 crowns before leaving the NAIA to join NCAA Division II and the LSC in 1994-95.
As he approaches the next milestone in line, Reisman sat in his office adorned with memorabilia from his 27-plus years of success leading the program, and answered six questions for Flash Sports Editor Brad Keith. His answers, in their entirety, are below, followed by a look at Reisman and Tarleton by the numbers and a timeline highlighting many of the significant events during his ongoing career at the university.
1. If you decided to hang it up today, what would you say has made your career a success?
Lonn Reisman: “I would say my career was successful because I stuck with the bedrock philosophy I believed in but also changed with the times. A lot of coaches get stuck in what they do. The game changes.
I’ve stayed with my strong philosophy of fundamental man-to-man defense. But with the game changing from no shot clock to a 45 second clock to a 35 second clock and now to a 30 second clock, you have to change offensively. Otherwise, your stuck in a prehistoric era of basketball.
You have to advance with the times, and I have to give (Associate head coach Chris Reisman) a lot of credit on that. He has had many offers to leave here but has been loyal to Tarleton State. He bleeds purple. Chris is a Stephenville kid, he was raised here. He’s a graduate of Stephenville High School and was a great player for us here and now he has two degrees from here. Chris is a huge reason for our success. But he’s not the only one who has stayed with me.
Jason Hooten was with me 12 years and did a tremendous job. He’s the head coach at Sam Houston State now. You look at our staff now, and Marlin Cloudy played for me, and I am so proud of everything Marlin has achieved here. He just finished his master’s degree and spoke at his graduation and is just an outstanding example for these young men.
Chris Harrell is on our staff and played for me, and Coleman Furst hit the game winning 3 point shot for us in the championship game of a Lone Star Conference tournament and is coaching here. We can go back through the years, and there are guys like Jimmy Moreno who stayed with me, Jim Watson stayed with me. It’s just amazing. Rodney McFadden was on my staff, Jose Mata, so many others. I’m leaving out a lot of them. Denny Downing was on my staff, so was Jeff Clarkson, he’s a head coach at Plano now. I’ve just had so many guys who were so pivotal in being a part of what we have built here. I’m forgetting a few, they were probably GAs. I also brought in guys from the outside like Rodney McConnell, Ronnie Hamilton and Jabaar Adams, and they invested a great deal and worked very hard here, too.
Stability is the key to building a program. You look at Coach K’s bench and all his coaches played for him. I’ve had two Division I coaches call me in the last month and ask how we do what we do. Stability, that’s how. We have a staff full of guys who know our system, believe in our system, have experience seeing our system work. They make it happen, they’re the reason we’re able to keep this thing going the way we have.
I’ve also been willing to learn from those assistants and learn more about the game in general. That’s why I have this here (Reisman taps a sign on his desk bearing the words “The road to success is always under construction.”). It’s a reminder that you always have to be learning and adapting in order to be successful. When you stop learning, you stop winning. When you think you know it all, when you think you’re ready to stop construction, you’re probably about to go downhill.”
2. After all these years and so much success, what motivates you to keep going?
Lonn Reisman: What motivates me the most is ‘Can I be an influence on young people’s lives?’ I’ve won a lot of games, I’ve been to two Final Fours. Twice we’ve been one game away from playing for a national championship. If we get that, that would be a blessing, but the bigger blessing is helping create better lives for the kids playing for me. Are they getting an education? Are they learning what they need to be productive citizens? Am I helping them with their faith?
Coaching to me is a ministry. Am I being a role model for them and encouraging them to explore their faith? Am I teaching and teaching again the rights and wrongs in life to help young men better themselves? Those are the ways I most want to impact my guys.
3. What factors do you think will impact your thoughts concerning retirement when that time nears?
Lonn Reisman: I’ve always been told by my mentors that I’ll drive to work one day and just know it’s over. I haven’t made that drive yet. I haven’t been driving to work and just felt like it’s over.
I don’t think you pre-plan it in coaching. The other day at Wisconsin, Bo Ryan quit in the middle of the year. He beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, went into the locker room afterwards and told his team he was done. Dean Smith did it it. He was driving to work one day, and he got there and said, that’s it, I’m done. It happened that way for my mentor, Jack Hedden.
I’m not worried about how many games I win. To think you can win 600 games at a program that had one winning season in 27 years before I came here; I didn’t even know that until I was already on campus or I might not have come. One winning season in 27 years of four-year basketball, and it took another 27 years to get our program back over .500 here. That was one of the most special accomplishments I’ll be a part of. I’ve won games, I’m not worried about the next accomplishment or milestone or anything like that. I just haven’t had that drive yet. I don’t know when it will come; nobody really does for sure.
4. Besides yourself, your coaches, talented players, what are some of the external factors that have helped in the building of this program?
Lonn Reisman: I think people have become invested and have an ownership in our program. Our students, our university community and our Stephenville and Erath County communities. We’ve brought in the right kind of players and the community has bonded with those players.
It’s happened through our players doing community work like Angel League and reading to young students, and it’s happened because of our wonderful Texan Club boosters. I give a lot of the credit to the community because they have bonded with us and they have contributed greatly to making this a very tough place to play.
I remember in 2008 when we were about to win the region and go to Elite Eight and Central Oklahoma hit that 3-point shot from the top of the key and beat us in the last seconds, and you could just see how it deflated everybody for a few days here. Our fans were in mourning for a few days, it affected them that much.
And then last year, we beat Angelo State in the last few seconds and win the regional championship and you saw how enthusiastic everyone was, how the town was upbeat for several days after that. You can just see how this town rides the highs and lows with this program and how much it means to them, and we want the community to know they mean that much to us, too.
5. I realize there have been too many special moments to count the last three decades, but what are some that will always stand out to you?
Lonn Reisman: Probably the first game I ever coached here. We were down 15 points at halftime to Mary Hardin-Baylor. I call timeout with about eight seconds to go in the game and we’re down two and Tracy Guy hits a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win our first game here, 72-71. That was the start of the program.
No doubt, the conference championships have all been tough. The regional championship in Commerce was huge, then the regional championship in Bolivar, Missouri for back-to-back regional championships really I think showed people we were here to compete on the national scene for the long haul.
The conference championships in Allen have all been great, and one of the most meaningful things to me was finally giving our fans and our program and our university a regional championship at home, and we did that here last year against Angelo State. We’ve been to the regional final to play for a spot in the Elite Eight five times and won three.
A lot of history. The regional championship game last year was a great game. It was one of the wildest celebrations I remember here, but I also remember when we won the conference championship against Northeastern (State) here in 2004 and our fans rushed the floor. And the game in 2004 against A&M-Kingsville in the conference semifinals. We were down 30 points at halftime and we won. I still can’t believe that, and we still get coaches calling wanting a copy of that film.
6. You’ve been here 28 years and you’ve had chances to leave, chances for Division I gigs with big dollar signs. Why stay at Tarleton?
Lonn Reisman: I’ve been asked many times by my peers, ‘Why are you still at Tarleton? You’ve had opportunities to go to another level.’ And I tell them this – ‘I came to Tarleton at a special time and built a special program. How many people can sit in their office today, look up at pictures of 28 teams, know every kid on that wall, know what they’ve done with they’re life and know you were a big part in shaping their future? I can’t leave these kids, I can’t leave the 1988 team, nor can I leave the 2015-16 team, because that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about money, it’s about relationships. You can’t take money to heaven, but you can make sure you’ve done the best for the kids you’ve coached for 28 years and help them make something out of their lives.’
Lonn Reisman Tarleton Basketball Timeline (Credit: Tarleton Athletic Communications)
May 1, 1988 – Lonn Reisman introduced as Tarleton men’s basketball head coach
Nov. 8, 1988 – Reisman records first win at Tarleton (72-71 over Mary Hardin-Baylor)
March 1, 1990 – Tarleton wins first playoff game under Reisman (86-81 over Texas college in NAIA District 8)
March 4, 1992 – Reisman leads Tarleton first NAIA District 8 title (52-40 over Southwestern)
Nov. 27, 1992 – Reisman’s 100th win at Tarleton (73-61 over Arkansas Baptist)
Feb. 28, 1994 – Before joining NCAA Division II, Tarleton wins NAIA Division II Southwest Region championship (77-73 over College of the Ozarks)
Jan. 16, 1995 – Tarleton records first Lone Star Conference win (95-82 over Abilene Christian)
Feb. 25, 1997 – Tarleton wins first LSC tournament game (57-54 over Eastern New Mexico)
Dec. 28, 1998 – Reisman’s 200th win at Tarleton (75-72 over Delta State)
March 8, 2002 – Tarleton makes NCAA Division II Championship debut (72-59 loss to Incarnate Word)
March 14-17, 2003 – Tarleton hosts South Central Region Championship for first time
March 14, 2003 – Tarleton wins fist NCAA Division II playoff (56-43 over St. Mary’s)
Dec. 19, 2003 – Reisman’s 300th win at Tarleton (95-90 over Western Washington)
March 6, 2004 – Tarleton wins first LSC tournament title (69-66 over Northeastern State)
March 13-16, 2004 – Tarleton hosts South Central Region Championship for second time
March 15, 2005 – Tarleton wins first South Central Region Championship (75-70 over Texas A&M-Commerce)
March 23, 2005 – Tarleton wins first NCAA Division II Elite Eight quarterfinal (58-56 over Cal Poly-Pomona)
March 14, 2006 – Tarleton wins second South Central Region Championship (72-71 over Northwest Missouri State)
June 29, 2006 – Reisman promotes son, Chris Reisman, associate head coach.
Dec. 29, 2007 – Reisman’s 400th win at Tarleton (72-58 over St. Edward’s)
March 15-18, 2008 – Tarleton hosts South Central Region Championship for third time
January 21, 2012 – Reisman’s 500th win at Tarleton (78-53 over Texas A&M-Commerce)
March 9, 2013 – Tarleton wins second LSC tournament title (53-50 over Midwestern State)
Feb. 22, 2014 – Tarleton secures share of LSC regular season championship (92-82 over Eastern New Mexico)
March 8, 2014 – Tarleton wins third LSC tournament title (71-65 over Midwestern State)
March 1, 2015 – Tarleton secures first outright LSC league-wide championship (68-48 over Texas A&M-Commerce)
March 14-17, 2015 – Tarleton hosts South Central Region Championship for fourth time
March 17, 2015 – Tarleton wins third South Central Region Championship (68-66 over Angelo State)
March 25, 2015 – Tarleton wins second NCAA Division II Elite Eight quarterfinal (77-59 over Mount Olive)