The ‘thing’ about Billy
Not even Dr. Jamey Harrison’s salary as BCISD superintendent would pay me enough to want to coach Bridge City Cardinal baseball. The day you get hired is the day you start losing the job. Exactly one week after the 2008 baseball playoffs ended BCISD ended the Cardinal baseball coaching career of Billy Bryant.
At the conclusion of his fifth straight playoff season Bryant was “reassigned” denying him his final year as head baseball coach. His fate was likely sealed before the 2008 baseball season even began.
After nearly two decades of photographing local sports for The Record I have learned to recognize that there is often a more interesting game being played behind the bleachers than on the field.
As a photographer I have been a witness to and the recorder of many of the greatest moments in local athletics. My portfolio spans many, many years. The “behind the bleachers game” was in-play long before Billy Bryant arrived on Cardinal Field. He is just it’s latest victim. It is a game, however, that Billy Bryant never understood and couldn’t play.
Amid undeserved criticism, even after advancing to the Region III final playoff series against the eventual state champion Jasper Bulldogs in 2007, Bryant remained unpopular among his critics. He had taken the Cardinals to the UIL State Baseball Tournament in back-to-back seasons in 2005 and 2006 but couldn’t win enough popularity to overcome a wave of politically charged discord that eventually helped oust him.
“Parents expect you to start your eight best players– and their kid,” Bryant once said. And so it is in this strange little world where I have watched coaches and athletic directors come and go.
There is at least one good way to remove a coach with Bryant’s 151-32 five year coaching record. Praise his success and peg him as insubordinate. The matter is addressed through private school policy absolving the school board from taking action. The coach has the burden of defending himself to his superiors against a file of allegations. Bryant scored poorly.
The events became most interesting last week when Gabriel Pruett of the Orange Leader reported upon the same “rumors” we were receiving here at The Record. That there was a plan to reassign Bryant removing him as head baseball coach.
Meanwhile, Bryant wasn’t being told anything and school officials were questioning who was.
Anger was reportedly directed toward Pruett for spreading “rumors.” It was anger, however, that was misdirected. The media has responsibilities and policies too. Pruett did his job as a professional journalist in his reporting on the events as they unfolded.
By the middle of last week the names of possible candidates to replace Bryant was already circulating. Two names being floated were both former coaches at Lumberton and others were put forward as well. Bryant quietly waited to find out if the “rumors” were true.
“Rumors turned to facts,” Pruett reported three days later, on Saturday, breaking the news that Bridge City Cardinal head baseball coach Billy Bryant had been “reassigned.” It happened on Friday going into the three day Memorial Day weekend with no school or board meeting on Monday.
I respect my friends and colleagues at BCISD. Most have always known where I stood on the subject of Billy Bryant. Some of them I watched maneuver in the “behind the bleachers” game and attempted to drag me into it with them. But Billy Bryant is my friend too. I wasn’t afraid to stand up for him and I learned to respect the job he was doing for Cardinal baseball. He didn’t have to “rah-rah” to win baseball games. But his quite demeanor didn’t play well among his adversaries. Billy didn’t fit in.
Poor information opens the door to speculation.
I believe Bryant deserved better from BCISD. But he remained true to his employers. He did not comment or solicit help from friends and supporters before or after the events that denied him his final year as head baseball coach. And in that he has once again earned my respect- and hopefully theirs. I could not personally be so restrained. Like I said, the job doesn’t pay that well and I’ve been around the rude conditions they have to work in.
It is quite now behind the bleachers of Cardinal Field. The baseball season is over and Bryant’s replacement will be hired soon.
Meanwhile, ground crews are preparing Larry Ward Stadium for the 2008 football season following the worst in Bridge City High School history. Athletic director and head football coach Cris Stump ended his first year a perfect 0-10 not counting the loss of Billy Bryant, unless one considers that a victory. If so, it’s satisfaction is empty and fleeting. Revel in it quickly. The “behind the bleacher” game is already watching and always waiting.