By Clint Dye | Leader Reporter
I originally wrote this last year, after East Buchanan football coach Kevin Bryan decided to hang up the whistle and walk away from the sidelines. It was time for Coach Bryan and his wife Traci to enjoy his retirement. My intention was to read this at what I presumed would be a retirement party held in honor of the long-time East Buchanan head coach. But, as we all know, the COVID pandemic put a halt on many things planned for 2020.
With the news that Coach Bryan’s courageous battle with colon cancer has come to a heartbreaking end, I now share this with the heaviest of hearts.
I never had the opportunity to play for Coach Bryan. My time as a high school player came years before he took the reins at East Buchanan, not to mention I played for the rival Plattsburg Tigers. No, my friendship with Coach Bryan stemmed from years of walking the East Buchanan sidelines as the Bulldogs' feature reporter for The Clinton County Leader.
It was in this role I witnessed first-hand how great of a coach – and even more importantly, how great of a leader and beacon of inspiration – Coach Bryan was to every player who donned an East Buchanan helmet. Coach Bryan did things the right way. He taught his players to be tough, but respectful, on the field, and even more so off.
My time at The Clinton County Leader started a year before Coach Bryan took the lead at East Buchanan. I was there during his very first game as head coach in 2007 and had the privilege of being there for his final game in 2019.
Over the decade-plus I covered East Buchanan football, my conversations with Coach Bryan were always a highlight. Our relationship grew over time from simple sports reporter and coach, to eventual friends and I can circle back to a handful of moments that will stick with me the rest of my life in appreciation of Coach Bryan.
My initial stint as a sports editor for The Clinton County Leader lasted three years, and even though I only covered the Bulldogs for two seasons with Coach Bryan leading the way, when I returned to assist in sports coverage in 2013, he welcomed me back to the sidelines with open arms.
My son Aaron’s very first venture into football was at an East Buchanan football camp. In kindergarten at the time, Coach Bryan allowed Aaron to come to camp, even though it was designated for first grade and higher. He was the youngest kid at the camp and Coach Bryan and his staff took it upon themselves to make him comfortable while showing him the ropes. Aaron’s love of playing football stems from participating in this camp.
The 2014-2015 East Buchanan football teams are still my favorite teams I’ve had the opportunity of covering. It was during this time that I really felt a part of this community and our friendship grew even more. We talked on a weekly basis about the team and the pressures that come with a team expected to win. Whether they won or lost, Coach Bryan was always a conversation I looked forward to week in and week out.
Flash forward to 2016 and Coach Bryan’s cancer diagnosis. It took him away from his team and doing what he loved midway through the season, but it couldn’t keep him away entirely. Coach Bryan returned, albeit in the press box, for East Buchanan’s district semifinal game with Mid-Buchanan.
Before the game he took the time to come down to the field for one of our pre-game chats we always had before every East Buchanan game. We hugged, and talked mainly about how he was doing, how my kids were, and just a little bit about football.
You could see how inspired the players were just to have his presence around once again as they soundly defeated the Dragons 34-7.
The next season was like something you would see in a Hollywood script. Coach Bryan made his triumphant return to the East Buchanan sidelines. Taking on the personality of their coach, the Bulldogs, who many thought would struggle, battled all the way to the Missouri Class 1 Semifinals. Seeing these players play with so much heart and determination, obviously driven by the grit and toughness of their coach, was truly inspirational.
The Bulldogs didn’t get their storybook ending of competing for a state championship, but reaching the semifinals for the second time under Coach Bryan is something that will live forever in East Buchanan football lore.
It was in that semifinal loss to Monroe City where I have one of my fondest memories of Coach Bryan. It was a moment that further proved to me how decent of a man he was. With his team trailing midway through the third quarter and trying to stage a patented East Buchanan comeback, during a timeout, he walks over to me and says “Hey Clint, I didn’t get to talk to you before the game, but I just wanted to see how you and your family were doing”.”
I was blown away; here they were, trailing with a state championship appearance on the line, and he makes it his mission to come ask how I was doing. It is a moment I will always look back fondly on.
When my wife and I decided to move from Missouri to Iowa, one of the things I was going to miss most was covering sports in Clinton County. Luckily, even with the move, I was and still am able to make the trip down for an occasional game. A recent example was during the 2019 season and the East Buchanan-Plattsburg game, one of my favorite games to cover every year. East Buchanan emerged victorious but there was a weather delay for lightning.
It was during the hour-plus delay Coach Bryan and I had the chance to catch up. There was little talk of football; we mainly focused on how he had been feeling, what him and Traci had been up to, my kids, me coaching my boys in youth football; and we even discussed how I got into photographing pro wrestling in Iowa.
Coach Bryan wasn’t just beloved within the East Buchanan community. If you talk to any coach in Northwest Missouri, especially the KCI Conference, you will hear nothing but inspirational comments about Coach Bryan and his influence on the game.
He was a man who shaped the lives of countless boys, helping them transition into upstanding young men. He was courageous during his battle with cancer, inspiring so many with his toughness and determination. Kevin Bryan was a great coach, an even better father, husband, teacher, and – in my case – friend. He will truly be missed.
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