By Rob Patrick
Mike Lee will feel at home in Bryant even before he has[more] a house in Bryant.
On Wednesday night, Lee was officially hired by the Bryant Board of Education to become the new athletic director for the school district, succeeding longtime A.D., Tom Farmer. Lee has served as the head football coach at Van Buren High School for the last three years, leading the Pointers to a 7-5 record in 2010 and a run into the quarterfinals of the Class 6A State playoffs.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said Wednesday night. “It’s a home run for Mike Lee and his family. Bryant is a vibrant school district that’s an easy sell and really it’s just a dream-come-true job for me.
“I’m originally from North Little Rock and I have many friends in the Bryant School District,” Lee added. “(Bryant head football coach) Paul Calley’s a dear friend of mine, a guy that I’ve competed against and gotten to know. I really value his friendship. (Baseball) Coach (Kirk) Bock and I have a relationship that dates back to our (baseball) playing days at UCA. Rick Pilcher is an assistant principal in the district that I knew and worked with and have been friends with since my time in Bald Knob when he was the head football coach and A.D. there. I’ve known of (Superintendent) Randy Rutherford for some time. He and my brother are good friends. And (Bryant High School principal) Jay Pickering is a guy that I watched play basketball at Hendrix College when I was at UCA. Ron Marvel, who pinch-hit as a basketball coach at Bryant for a year has been a friend of mine since back at UCA. So, I’m familiar with many people.
“That’s what makes it so much more appealing,” he added. “When you move, you’re always worrying about fitting in but that’s not a concern (at Bryant).”
Lee was one of nine candidates for the job that interviewed with a seven-member search committee that included three principals, two coaches, and two administrators.
“(The hiring) was based on his organizational skills,” said Farmer, who will continue as transportation director while beginning work with Bob Padgett, the district’s maintenance supervisor. “He came in and gave a presentation and just did an outstanding job of explaining what we can expect from him as an athletic director, what we could expect him to expect from the coaches, what we could expect him to expect of the players. He just laid everything out, laid a plan down of how to go about things. And he had some enthusiasm about him.
“The other thing that impressed everyone was that he wanted to be in Bryant,” Farmer added. “It wasn’t the fact that he needed a job, it was the fact that he wanted to be in Bryant. He said he’s been a nomad coach, traveling around from place to place and he wanted to be like an oak tree, planted with his roots in the ground. And Bryant was that spot. It’s a good fit.”
“I’ve really admired the school district from afar,” Lee mentioned, “and the opportunity to serve as athletic director is something that I accept with humility. I can’t wait to get started.”
Lee’s interview was held Friday, April 28.
“That went really good,” he said. “I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Rutherford and that went really good as well. One thing led to another and I was offered the position and accepted it in principle on Monday.”
Lee took over a struggling Van Buren football program after serving as an assistant under Chris Hill, with whom he had arrived at Van Buren from Morrilton before the 2006 season. The Pointers were 10-22-1 under Lee’s tutelage.
Asked if the decision to give up coaching was a difficult one, he said, “To be honest, from the situation I’m entering into, it wasn’t a very difficult decision. I’m at total peace with the decision that I’ve made. I feel that God’s led me to Bryant, myself and my family.”
Speaking of his family, Lee said, “I have a wonderful wife of 19 years, Katrina. I have two beautiful children, Evan, who will be an eighth grader next year, and Megan, who’ll be a fifth grader next year.”
A graduate of North Little Rock Northeast, Lee received his undergraduate degree at UCA and his Master’s at Arkansas Tech. He spent time as a volunteer assistant baseball coach at UCA then in the Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball organization as a scout. Along with Van Buren and Morrilton, Lee coached at Harrison, Bald Knob, Pulaski Academy, and Salem (Fulton County).
“I’ve worn some different hats,” he acknowledged.
As for his plans for the Bryant Athletic Department, Lee stated, “It’s to make athletics as a whole better and manage to be a servant, be a facilitator to the coaches in the Bryant School District and together, with teamwork, push our athletics to heights that haven’t been achieved before.
“I understand there’s a learning curve,” he concluded, “and I plan on attacking that, and just to work diligently and persistently to give the community, the school district and, most importantly, the athletes, the possibility to be a part of the best athletic department in the state of Arkansas.”