By Brad Keith
Photos by Dr. Chet Martin and provided by TCU and the Reisman Family
Physically, Lonn Reisman is not an imposing man. But he must turn sideways, skinny himself up a bit, and shuffle more than walk as he rounds the corner of his desk to take his seat in what has fast become a crowded office.
He can barely fit past a pyramid of glass-encased basketballs embroidered with the records and titles won by many of his 28 Tarleton State men’s teams.
When Tarleton added a west wing to Wisdom Gym to house the athletics department more than a decade ago, it appeared Reisman and staff had more room than they would ever need. But in Reisman’s office, where the trophies, plaques, basketballs, nets, and other memorabilia have continued rolling in, space is limited.
Like time in the day of a man serving as both athletic director and head men’s basketball coach for a steadily-growing university boasting more than 10,000 students – and fulfilling both roles successfully.
But that’s not all Reisman is doing these days. He’s making time for family – not that he hasn’t always, but now it’s for grandchildren, extended family and, yes, even the most cherished members of his Tarleton family.
Like many families, it’s grown through the years, and like many coaches, so has Lonn Reisman.
Once a fireball removing neckties, breaking clipboards and even kicking chairs, Reisman is the same competitor today he was when he first arrived in Stephenville in 1988. But he’s learned to channel that intensity, turning to the ‘Reisman stare’ to argue most calls he doesn’t agree with, and to the legendary ‘Reisman stomp’ that has given fans and players alike goose bumps at Wisdom Gym for most of three decades.
The only clipboard broken in Wisdom Gym the last few years was a victim not of Lonn, but Chris Reisman, his son and associate head coach who as much as anything represents what the growth of the Reisman family has meant to the careers of both men.
In so many ways, Lonn Reisman is different from the coach who first had to revive the Tarleton program from the dead, bringing it back to respectability his first year on campus after the men’s program had just two winnings seasons the previous 27 years.
But in so many ways, Lonn Reisman is the same coach who instilled pride in the Tarleton basketball program with Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles even before adding the title of athletic director and steering all of Tarleton athletics into NCAA Division II and the Lone Star Conference.
His team photos hang from the walls of his office, but while there are more now than before, those have always been there. It’s the pictures of the grandkids, the ones who weren’t even a thought on the young coach’s brain when he left a junior college head job to come to Texas.
“Any of my players will tell you that my demeanor in practice changes if any of my grandkids show up,” said Reisman. “I had players who used to say I softened a little when my daughter, Lonna, would come to practice, but now it’s when the grandkids come, and I soften up a lot when they are around.”
Chris Reisman was six-years-old when ‘Dad’ moved the family to Stephenville to take the Tarleton job.
“I don’t even know if Chris remembers anything from when we first arrived here, but he was the typical coach’s kid – always in the gym and close to the team, always wanting to have as much to do with Tarleton basketball as he could.”
Now, it’s Chris, who played point guard for the Texans, who oversees many of the day-to-day operations of the basketball program. There’s no doubt, the elder Reisman has said repeatedly, that the development of Chris as an associate head coach has prolonged his father’s career.
Lonn Reisman has had many good assistant coaches through the years, but none were Chris.
“He’s ready to be a head coach at this level, and he will be a good one. He is a scientist when it comes to scouting and breaking down film, he’s a great time manager and staff manager and he’s a great recruiter,” Lonn Reisman said. “Chris has meant the world to this program, and there is no doubt having him by my side is a big reason I’m still able to do this.”
And now Chris’ son, Rush, 6, is a mainstay around the program, stretching with the team before games, high-fiving players as they are announced during starting lineups, and often in his father or grandfather’s arms before they are even through handshaking the opposing team following games.
“To see Rush getting to be a part of everything here, to see the love he has for this basketball program and for Tarleton, it’s just so special to share that with him,” said Lonn Reisman, who has even joked publicly that the program has already received an early verbal commitment from Rush, a future point guard.
But Rush isn’t alone, and that’s okay. Grandpa Reisman has plenty of love to go around.
Love for Mayci, 6, and Malli, 3. They are the granddaughters of Reisman’s wife, Misti, and like Rush, are the apple of the coach’s eye.
“Whether it’s Rush or Mayci playing soccer or just playing basketball with them in the driveway, I just love having the grandkids around, and as much as they enjoy it, I think I get even more out of our time together than they do,” says Grandpa. “It’s refreshing to be around, children, around youth. Especially at that age where they are just learning so many things for the first time, and they are curious about everything and all they want to do is be like Mom and Dad and Grandpa. This is just a golden time to be around them.”
What the grandkids haven’t changed about Lonn Reisman, experience has.
“A lot of it is I’ve just gotten older, and I’ve learned things through the years. Most situations that come up I’ve dealt with before,” said Reisman, who exceeded 600 wins this past season and is sixth among active coaches and 16th All-Time in Division II coaching victories. “These days, I know what we will be facing and I have a plan built on experience of how we should attack it.”
That’s called wisdom, and with it has come even more patience.
“One thing I’ve improved so much through the years is being patient. I’m more patient with my family, more patient with my staff and more patient with my players,” Reisman said. “I’m sure taking time to play with the grandkids has helped with that.”
There’s nothing intense about kicking the soccer ball or dribbling the basketball with Rush and Mayci. Those are games where even the winningest active college coach in Texas – at all levels – doesn’t keep score.
“I think with most coaches, early in their careers, their main focus is doing everything they can to win and to recruit the best players and it’s easy to get tunnel vision where that’s all you are aiming at,” Reisman said. “As you get older, your priorities start to change some. That doesn’t mean winning isn’t always a priority, but there are other things outside of the game that take priority, too.
“My happiest times now are looking up and seeing Mayci or Malli in their little cheerleader outfits (their mother, Blaine Hamilton, is the Tarleton cheer coach) or Rush in Tarleton gear and seeing them already invested in our program and becoming such a big part of it,” Lonn Reisman said. “It’s a great reward to take what we’ve built here and get to share it with the children in the family. I can’t think of anything better.”
What’s the same?
Entering the twilight years of his legendary career, he has guided Tarleton to South Central Region championships and berths in the Elite Eight each of the last two years, matching the accomplishments of his 2004-05 and 2005-06 teams. He has now led Tarleton to four NCAA regional titles and Elite Eight appearances, and twice the Texans have moved on to the national semifinals and “final four.”
Reisman still anchors his team with relentless man-to-man defense and a monster home court advantage while developing the mental mettle necessary to also win on the road.
“We’ve been consistent. Many coaches build programs in a way to win right away, but while we always want to win now, we have been very careful to build this program in a way that it can stand the test of time,” said Reisman. “To do that, we have to be consistent as coaches. We have to remember these young men are students, not just athletes. We have to make sure they are staying on top of their schoolwork and that they are representing our program and our university in a first-class manner. If that isn’t the case, we have to fix it immediately.”
That consistent approach to leadership and life off the court has certainly carried over to when the Texans are on the hardwood. And opponents are usually left defenseless. Or, as is often the case against Reisman’s teams, offense-less.
“We’ve been known for years as being one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Coach said. “I’ve always said, we may not be having the best shooting day, but we can still play great defense and give ourselves a chance to win.”
And just like the little things that make one successful in life, Reisman focuses on little things on the basketball court. He has for years. Consistently.
“We take charges, we dive for loose balls, we pride ourselves on the little things that not everyone is willing to do at the level we are,” he said. “That is why we’ve been able to win consistently here at Tarleton.”
It’s why he hasn’t had a losing season this century, and why his players go on to become attorneys, principals, fire captains, and for many, even coaches themselves.
When will it end?
Reisman says he doesn’t have a target date for retirement, but he does have an interesting way of looking at it, one he adopted from his longtime mentor, Jack Hedden, an old boss when Reisman was an assistant at Southeastern Oklahoma State. You know, when he discovered a long lanky athlete named Dennis Rodman and taught him how to rebound.
“Coach Hedden says one day I’ll be driving to work and I’ll realize I don’t want to be there anymore,” Reisman said. “That day hasn’t come for me yet, and I don’t have any idea when it will come. I don’t know when I’ll be ready, but when it’s time, I’ll know.”
Between the addition of grandkids and his continued success at Tarleton, he doesn’t have time to spend pondering retirement. There is another youth soccer or basketball game to get to, another championship basketball team to build.
Family is most important in the life of Reisman, but there’s a Tarleton family he still feels he can’t let down.
“I’ve been asked many times by my peers, ‘Why are you still at Tarleton? You’ve had opportunities to go to another level,’” explained Reisman in an interview as he was on the cusp of victory No. 600 in Stephenville. “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 their 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 has created a legacy.
A legacy the growing Reisman family is already carrying forward into the next generation of Texans.