Remembering Tom Bryant
RELEASED: Nov. 17, 2005
DANVILLE, KYRetired Centre College head basketball coach and athletic director Tom Bryant, died Monday, Nov. 7. Here, in the first of a two-part series, colleagues, former players and friends remember the coach's passion, generosity and sportsmanship.
Charles Vahlkamp, Hazelrigg Professor Emeritus of French:
Tom Bryant was a rare combination of fierce competitiveness tempered by a strong sense of fair play. He taught basketball as well as sportsmanship (a word we don't hear enough of these days) and teamwork. He insisted that his teams play the game the right way and that his players strive for the good of the team and not call undue attention to themselves as individuals. This approach resulted often in victories over teams with far greater talent. Tom's teams were a pleasure to watch, win or lose. He belongs in a coaches Hall of Fame.
Matt Blevins, '99:
Coach Bryant is the main reason that I attended Centre. He took an interest in me, came to my high school basketball games, called to "encourage" me (in his way) to get my damn paperwork in order and in on time. Although I had ambitions of shortly transferring to play for the University of Kentucky (that call never came), in the end my talent did not afford me a lot of playing time. As I think about the memories and friendships formed at Centre—and on those long bus trips with the team—what a gift Coach Bryant gave to me. I hope is enjoying the fruit of that labor now. RIP.
John Roush, president:
The impact some coaches have in the lives of their players is almost magical at times. Clearly, Coach Bryant was such a coach. He was a "difference maker" for good for countless students who played for Centre during his years as head coach. In doing so, he played and continues to play an important role in the College's story as it is written by its distinguished graduates. Tom Bryant will be missed by his family and his community. Coach Bryant will be missed by his players in ways only they can know.
Walter Gooch, former vice president for administrative services:
Tom was a very outgoing and good guy. Jeff is a faithful son and we all see him daily as he makes his mail rounds. I am sure Tom was very proud of Jeff’s continuing the Bryant tradition of loyalty to Centre.
William R. Levin, professor of art history:
I came to know Tom Bryant shortly after my arrival at Centre College and Danville about 20 years ago, through my frequent attendance at basketball games and by serving along with him on the college's Atheletics and Recreation Committee. He was among the first colleagues to go out of his way in welcoming me simply by being open, friendly, and in general sharing with me what he shared with so many others—something he continued to possess right up until the end: his relentlessly upbeat personality.
John Wilson, Stodghill Professor of Mathematics:
Tom was coach of the basketball team when I first came to Centre in 1985. We were in the middle of period of very successful basketball seasons. In the course of conversations shortly after I arrived Tom found out that I had graduated from Sewanee. From that day on, he always let me know when we were playing my alma mater with comments like "I'll see you at the game this weekend. We’re playing your old school." Or he might say "We’re headed down to play your alma mater this week." Tom was always friendly with me, and I greatly enjoyed going to the games.
Phillip Kirby, inventory control coordinator:
I was only here a month when Tom retired. But I did get to talk to him briefly a time or two. He treated me like he knew me for a long time. I was sorry to hear about his passing.
Brian Chafin, director of athletics and recreation:
The most memorable thing that comes to mind is that Tom was consistently drawing up "offenses" on whatever piece of paper he could find. He did them at football games, in staff meetings, on bus trips and even after he retired in front of the TV. There was not an offense that Tom did not know or invent.
Rhonda Bridges Headley, '93:
I remember Coach Bryant from the unique perspective of being his team's manager during the early '90's. I remember his obsession with punctuality ... he once left a manager behind who didn't make it to the bus on time, and I often became an alarm clock on road trips to ensure everyone made it for breakfast. I remember his "no jeans" policy when traveling to games and his desire for us to look respectable, a subject the NBA is currently experiencing. I remember team walks, supplying the bench with an extra towel just for Coach to clench during tense moments of a game, and I remember his favorite pre-game meal ... spaghetti and green beans at Cowan. But most of all, I remember how a man with no daughters treated me like one ... for instance, always making sure I had an escort home after a late game. I remember...and I always will.
Bill Breeze '45, special assistant to the president for endowment:
I always enjoyed Tom's critiques of his players, delivered at Gold and White luncheons. He was usually dissatisfied with the quality of his teams' defense. After one weekend's game in which his offensive star failed to get a rebound, he said "Even my wife could get one rebound!" But Tom was amazing in his ability to take whatever players he was dealt and make a good basketball team out of them.
Eric Mount, Rodes Professor Emeritus of Religion:
Tom Bryant came to Centre in 1968, two years after I came, and we overlapped from then until his retirement. We had a multi-faceted relationship, and it was nearly always a highly enjoyable one. When I was coaching the men's tennis team with Milton Scarborough, he was our athletics director. When I was vice president and dean of students, I was responsible for athletics, so Tom reported to me. We competed with and against each other in volleyball and tennis. I was one of his greatest fans as a basketball coach. As college chaplain, I sometimes had a pastoral relationship with him during health crises and other tough times in his life. The consistent thread that extended through all of these roles and shifts in our relationship was our friendship. And if I were to cite the most prominent characteristic of that friendship, it would be the ongoing pleasure we found in passing insults back and forth—always in each other's presence. We always knew that real affection lay behind the joshing and the barbs, and I always knew that a truly sensitive and conscientious human being lay behind the sometimes-stern exterior that he could display on occasion.
Tom's accomplishments at Centre and in the larger community are being well recalled by others. The final tribute that I would offer beyond my appreciation for his loyalty and humor as a friend pertains to his skill as a basketball coach. Tom's teams won numerous basketball games that truly amazed me. I saw these remarkable victories both at home and away. When it came to using the talent that he had, preparing his team for a game, and then being a masterful game coach, he ranked with the very best—anywhere and anytime. It is appropriate that the Centre basketball court 'bears' his name. The standard that he set and the memories he created on that floor will live as long as anyone lives who watched him practice his art.
Matt Vonderbrink '80, coordinator of recreation and tennis coach:
Tom Bryant meant a lot to the basketball program and the total athletic department at Centre for a long time. He also meant a lot to me personally. He led the basketball program during a run that may be the most successful sustained period of any athletic program here at Centre. During the late '70s and '80s, Centre was always in the hunt for the conference championship and often highly ranked nationally. His team-oriented style of play was a trademark of his squads and his philosophy. Tom was very demanding of that style from his players. He also was athletic director during a highly successful period for many other sports here at Centre. His leadership in attracting quality coaches and giving them the means to succeed was significant. He personally came to my high school games and recruited me to attend Centre and has helped me in most of my professional opportunities.
Judy Naumann, secretary for division III:
I only knew Tom through my grandmother, Theessa Davis, who attended Centenary Methodist Church. Tom and his son, Todd, drove the church van and took my grandmother to church while she was in her 90s. She had so much good to say about him, but I don’t recall the details, only that she thought the world of him. Tom visited with my grandmother from time to time even after she moved to Harrodsburg to live with my mother when she was 96. I do remember that she made a special effort in her latter years to get out and vote for Tom in one election. Even though I don’t remember any special story, I would like to think they are having a great time reminiscing about the past together now.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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