After spending most of his career coaching boys, Chris Bryant will get back to his roots as a high school girls coach next season at Van Buren.
Bryant, who was hired as girls head coach in Tuesday’s monthly school board meeting, has been an assistant coach for the boys’ team for the last 10 years under Randy Loyd. Bryant replaces Merrill Mankin, who retired after eight years as the Lady Pointers’ coach.
“It was an opportunity to stay in the area and to be a head coach again,” Bryant said. “My family has become attached to the community. This is a chance to run my own program and not have to uproot my family to another city.”
Before Van Buren, Bryant was a head coach at both Cedarville and Hartford as well as an assistant at Greenwood and student assistant coach for Arkansas Tech men’s team. His first job was head boys and girls coach at Hartford for two years and then just the boys’ coach for two more years before becoming an assistant at Greenwood.
“I had a great experience coaching girls my first two years at Hartford,” Bryant said. “I enjoyed it and the girls were very coachable. To me, basketball is basketball. The rim doesn’t know if that is a girl shooting the ball or a boy. There will be a small adjustment, but a quick transition.”
Michael Kinney, who has been a coach at the district’s Freshman Academy, will be Bryant’s assistant coach.
“I am fortunate to have coach Kinney because he has been working with the girls in the offseason,” Bryant said. “He has coached with these girls in the lower grades so he knows many of these girls.”
The challenge will be building back a program that has only won one conference game in the past two seasons.
“This is a program that is just two years removed from back-to-back state semifinal appearances,” Bryant said. “They have the foundation with a good young group of girls coming back next season.
Starting next fall, Van Buren will move from the 7A/6A-West to the 7A/6A-Central. The team will have to win enough games against 7A conference foes Bryant, Conway and Mount St. Mary’s Academy to qualify for the postseason. The 6A conference teams are local rivals Alma and Greenwood, along with Russellville and Siloam Springs.
“Our school’s athletic programs have become pretty flexible about dealing with whatever path is laid out before us,” Bryant said. “Had we not played in the Central before, it might have come a shock. Having navigated those waters for four years, we understand what we are dealing with. We are just excited to go play.”
Bryant added Loyd was supportive of the move.
“(Coach Loyd) knew that I was ready to be a head coach again,” Bryant said. “He knew that if I had an opportunity to get a (head coaching) job without moving our family, I was going to pursue it. He has been great to me.”