Interim? Please. Tomcats don’t need to look far for next basketball head coach

Time to remove the “acting” or “interim” tag from Ryan Bonner’s name, even unofficially.  Ashland’s basketball coach has clearly proven worthy of being head coach, and without the adjectives that suggest he’s just filling in until somebody better can be found.

Or how about adding 16th Region champion in front of the coach title?

While there probably is a lot of red (maroon?) tape to be untangled that goes along with placing and removing interim tags, nobody deserves to be the fulltime boss of Tomcat basketball more than Bonner. There are rules – always, right? – that may mean Ashland cannot remove the tag until advertising the position for 30 days. Maybe they could post the position today, hire him (wink, wink), and announce it as soon as the posting period ends. I realize that’s not by the book, but this season hasn’t been either.

Bonner, a former Tomcat football and basketball star, has everything anybody should want in a basketball coach. He loves the game but, more importantly, he loves the players he’s coaching. If this season was an audition, cast Bonner in the starring role.

Tomcat “interim” coach Ryan Bonner (center holding daughter) and family after the 16th Region championship Tuesday in Morehead.

Did you watch him on the sidelines during the regional tournament? He was like a bear prowling up and down, pounding his big fists into the media table on good or bad plays, encouraging his players with growls, and then there were those massive bear hugs he handed out in the closing minutes of Ashland’s 73-51 demolition of Boyd County. Those spoke volumes as he lifted players off the ground and wrapped his big arms around them. It was genuine happiness, a joyful release after a season that could have gone sideways before it got started.

Instead, he won the 16th Regional championship in a season where most believed the Tomcats’ run of four in a row was over, especially after a generational trio of players had graduated and former head coach Jason Mays, the architect of that regional domination, was fired two weeks before the start of the season. There was so much confusion and angst surrounding the program. How could they ever recover?

Bonner did everything he was asked and more under the interim tag, including taking the Ashland Tomcats to their fifth consecutive regional championship on Tuesday night. If passion for the game and his players is a prerequisite for removing the interim tag, then take it away. Now.

Bonner was faced with more adversity than a first-year coach should ever have to endure. He was handed a boiling hot potato with no gloves. As an assistant coach with Mays, Bonner’s thorough scouting reports was proof  he understood the X’s and O’s. But there was no book (not yet anyway) on how to handle these unusual circumstances. He needed to be coach and psychologist. There is always the pressure to win at Ashland, but this wasn’t about winning and losing, not at first anyway. Bonner was tasked with consoling and rebuilding a locker room, of listening to the players go through a “grieving process” while building their trust. He needed them to believe in him, believe in the system and believe in each other.

A team with great maturity and resolve did just that. They found strength in each other internally, blocked out the noise and did what they do best – play their brand of never-give-up basketball.

Moving one seat over on the bench is only about 12 inches physically, but it can be a long journey mentally. Bonner was juggling that move from assistant to (interim?) head coach while caring for players in a unique situation and extending a winning culture that was well established by those who came before him. These players also had to prove to the community – and maybe themselves – that the beat would go on even after everything that had happened.

It turns out all that turmoil and noise became fuel for the Tomcats.

A highly competitive schedule awaited, further complicating the transition for coach and players. But Bonner persevered through it all, helped along by a tremendous support coaching staff and athletic director, and did the improbable. He did it with integrity and class.

Interim coaches are placeholders trying to keep the ship afloat until the next man comes along.

That’s not Ryan Bonner. He’s the captain of this Tomcat ship. Ashland needs to remove the tag (even unofficially) so he’s not introduced as the interim coach in Rupp Arena next week. He has earned being named head coach.

2 thoughts on “Interim? Please. Tomcats don’t need to look far for next basketball head coach

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s