The following interview with Bryant Head Coach Buck James provides some insight into how he thinks about athletics, and more importantly, how he’s grown to see his role as head coach.
In transparency, I had the privilege of playing football and baseball under Coach James when he began his career in Monticello, and I still follow his career closely today.
I can attest that things were hardly ever easy and not always fun. But the work was worth it, and the lessons I learned from him I still carry today.
You were a multi-sport athlete in Pine Bluff and at the University of Arkansas—Monticello (UAM). What do you remember most fondly about your playing days?
I think back on the guys I played with and the coaches I played for, and every one of them had an impact on me as a player and as a coach. From summer baseball and junior high sports to high school football, basketball and baseball, I think each one played a big role, one way or the other. They were the reason I wanted to become a coach.
When did you know you
wanted to be a coach?
I really think it happened in the eighth grade. I can remember sitting in my coaches’ office, talking to them and telling them that I wanted to be a coach. Ever since that time, that’s all I wanted to do.
I was raised by a single mother, and all I’ve done since the second grade is sports. The only thing I really know how to do is work hard, so if I had a career in the real world, I would have to do something that required hard, physical labor. I don’t have any real skill set. Coaching, athletics and positively developing young men are all I’ve ever done.
Who are some of those past coaches who were your biggest inspiration?
I could never say that it was one particular coach. I remember all the great coaches, great role models and great teachers I’ve ever had.
Three coaches I will never forget are Carl Preston, Tommy Barnes and Larry Stanley from UAM. Those men had me at an age and a time when I could’ve gone any direction, good or bad. It was a time when I really needed to be captured and shown the right path in a disciplined and structured way.
You were inducted into the UAM Hall of Fame. Did you ever think you would earn a distinction like that?
Oh, no. I didn’t even believe it when [the school] called to tell me.
I played in a great generation for UAM football, and what made the time even more remarkable was the fact it was a team led by three coaches and part-time student help. What they accomplished was phenomenal. The recruiting, practice schedule and game preparation—I think people today would have a hard time believing it.
I take the honor [of the induction] with the deepest humility because of so many of the men and women recognized before me.
Summarize the last three years and what you, your coaches and your players have built at Bryant.
This is the result of an incredible amount of hard work by dedicated people. I’m more like the architect who’s designed the plan, but it’s only possible because of this coaching staff and players who make it a reality. I have a tremendous team staff and, more importantly, a group of young men who are willing to be coached. Ninety percent of coaching is having kids who will allow you to do it.
I am not an easy person to play for, and I know that. I push players’ buttons trying to get them to go further than even they thought they could. I take pride in that, and my players take pride in it, too. I’ve had former players tell me there’s nothing they can’t tackle in life after coming through our athletics program.
What does 212
It’s the point where water boils. We use it as a measuring tool and a unit for our effort. That standard has become so expected within in our athletics department that our players say it far more than the coaches. They know what it means and the expectation of what it takes to get there.
When water hits 212 degrees, you can do almost anything with it. You can boil an egg or produce the steam needed to power a locomotive. At 200-, maybe 210-degrees, you’ve got hot water, but when it reaches 212, it takes on a different meaning.
The difference in winning a gold medal and last place in the 400m or 100m dash is what, less than a second, maybe half a second? You can work hard and give great effort but if your max is 205, and you’re competing against someone running on 212, you’re not going to win.
What’s next? Have you
even considered a last chapter, yet?
When I’m through, maybe I’ll look back on what we’ve done, but I haven’t even begun to think about something like that.
I remember [Monticello head football] Coach McMurray telling me, “There are a lot of great coaches who never win a state championship,” and he’s right. That we have become so successful is a testament to our administrators, our coaches and most of all, our players and parents. I’ve just been blessed to be here and help put the puzzle together.
Right now, my coaches and I are focused on what we can do to develop these kids into becoming better men, better workers, better husbands and better fathers.
For me, this profession is about keeping our kids in a safe place where they can grow and mature. It’s about keeping them off the streets, away from drugs and away from choices that can negatively impact their lives in ways they don’t even understand, yet.
Those are the things that burn in my gut now, and in 34 years of coaching, I’ve never had a perfect season doing that. That’s far more important than the wins and the losses.