Having moved from Grayson High School, Ryan Lesniak is Archer High School's first girls basketball coach.
Ryan Lesniak, 30, is the coach of the first-year Archer girls basketball team. The 1997 Shiloh graduate has coached basketball as an assistant at Grayson and South Gwinnett.
In this installment of "Getting to Know..." staff writer Ben Beitzel talks with Lesniak about selling hoodies and spirit socks, the difference in coaching girls and his time as official scorer for the Gwinnett Braves.
BB: You graduated from Georgia College and State University with a degree in accounting. How are you a high school girls basketball head coach?
RL: I started coaching baseball and softball at Grayson in 2002. I remembering going out to the baseball field and asking Jeremy Huckaby, who is Duluth's (girls) basketball coach, and I asked him about coaching basketball and he said, 'If you start coaching, you'll never quit.' The intensity of the game, the strategy of the game, you can't beat it in any other sport.
BB: Always girls?
RL: Always girls. I did four years of ninth-grade ball at Grayson. I did a year of the JV team at Grayson. I had the opportunity to coach with Mike Allison over at South Gwinnett last year and was his varsity assistant. To be able to learn and train under someone with his knowledge and knowing that one of my personal goals was to be a head coach, it was an honor but it was great preparatory experience for me too to be able to learn under somebody like that.
BB: Mike Allison's got a couple new blooms on his coaching tree now with you and Jamie Kruppa at South Gwinnett now head coaches.
RL: I have worked with a lot of great people. I have been very blessed to work with a lot of great people and a lot of great coaches.
BB: What was the biggest thing you learned from Allison?
RL: Mike is just, his people skills, his interaction with his players. He really is a players' coach. Not meaning in any way, shape or form, they walk over him, but they enjoy coming to practice. He knows when to be serious. He knows when to be lighthearted. Obviously he knows the game inside and out. But I think that is the biggest thing I took, the camaraderie he has with his players.
BB: So I guess Huckaby was right about loving basketball. What do you love about coaching it?
RL: I love the strategy of the game of basketball. Even as a ninth-grade coach I was breaking down film trying to see what other teams are doing. In softball you can survive off one dominating pitcher. In baseball the tempo of the game isn't the same. I just love basketball in the sense of the tempo of the game, the pace of the game, the strategy. The preparation that you put your kids through in watching game film and all the different Xs and Os in basketball. It made it something I fell in love with. I wasn't blessed with the height to play basketball in high school so I never thought this would be my route, my journey in coaching. It's been an incredible journey and it's just beginning.
BB: Did you choose coaching girls? Did you fall into it? Was it your preference?
RL: Originally, from a basketball perspective that was the only opportunity that was afforded to me. But once I started coaching there is no going back. In my opinion, if you tell a girl to run through a brick wall she'll run through it. If you tell a guy to run through a brick wall, he is going to ask how thick the wall is, how sturdy the wall is. That is just me. The Lord has blessed me with two daughters as well. I have two daughters at the house, I coach girls basketball, I teach fashion marketing of all classes. It just seems to be what my calling has been, to deal with girls and coaching girls and teaching girls and having two of my own.
BB: At least you are prepared for the different dynamic.
RL: Girls will do it how you tell them to do it. Sometimes to a fault. Sometimes girls will run to spot X and they won't see the back door cut or they won't see the opportunity to make something else happen, where guys have more instinct. You can teach girls the fundamentals of the game inside and out and that is really my passion, teaching the game.
BB: Since you started out getting your MBA, what got you to the classroom?
RL: Growing up my dad has been in sales and business world all his life. I thought that was were I wanted to go. As I was wrapping up my MBA I felt a calling to go into teaching. It was either teaching or become a youth pastor. Ultimately, I feel the Lord called me to be a teacher and coach. I was very fortunate to get a job at the time with no experience and a provisional certificate.
BB: This must be a unique challenge for you. You are not just starting your first head coaching job, but also starting a brand-new program.
RL: Fortunately (my other jobs) let me do everything that I could. I think at the end of the day when I sat down and interviewed with Coach (Tim) Watkins, he knew he was getting a new head coach, but I could show him that I had done a lot of the things that needed to be done. I hadn't done them all at once and that is part of the challenge of finding the time to be a good teacher, running the school store, being a head basketball coach and on top of all of those things first and foremost being a good husband and a good father, it's a challenge, but it is exciting and eventful on a daily basis.
BB: What goes into running the school store?
RL: Mainly this year we focused on spirit wear because we are a brand-new school. Some schools do candy and popcorn and stuff like that, but right now we are just focusing on spirit wear. I have to meet with different vendors and get quotes and worry about art designs and I am doing club T-shirts and the softball team did a postseason T-shirt. I have my vendors set up and I kind of serve as the middle man. Trying to keep things in stock and paying all the bills and doing all that. It is like a very, very small business.
BB: Do your students run the place? Is that the labor?
RL: I staff it with kids out of my marketing classes. They are working there the four periods of the day we are open this year. They help come up with different ideas. We just got scarves in stock and spirit socks and stuff like that.
BB: Are spirit socks the tall socks ...
RL: ... The tall socks with stripes, yeah. So they have done that, but at the beginning I had to do everything because I had to have that thing stocked before school started. I'll be sitting at home on the computer working on T-shirt designs, searching for fonts on fontspace (laughing). It's cheesy stuff, but it's fun.
BB: I like to buy gear, but I can be picky. You get to design just what you would like. I wish I could do that.
RL: One of the neatest things is walking through the building and saying, "I designed that, I designed that." That is neat. Then we had a couple of T-shirts kind of flop. I thought they were going to be good and they come in and turn their nose up at them. I am like, "Come on, that's a good shirt right there."
BB: What's your best design? What can't you keep in stock?
RL: Right now any hoodie we put out there. We have a $22 hoodie we have in there and we have been cycling different logos on it. But you go to Kroger and it's $26 and you go to Lee Sports and it's $30. With my vendors that I have been using I have been able to keep my costs down. I have no overhead so I have been able to keep those very competitive.
BB: Good sell. That's a good price for a hoodie.
RL: (laughing) It's a three-color print what more could you ask for?
BB: That seems like a good way to mix in your degree with teaching.
RL: I told my marketing kids, I like the concept of running a business, but I am not that type of risk-taker. I am not going to put my family's savings on the line. It takes a special person to do that. That is not me. I don't want to take those risks. I don't want to spend 14 hours at the shop. My brother runs his own business, he does landscaping, and if one of his guys calls in sick he is cutting all the grass. There is no way around it, because you have to make people happy.
BB: You met your wife at school in Milledgeville, where did you go on your first date, Zaxby's?
RL: We weren't on a date, but one of the first times we hung out was at a Huddle House. There were about eight of us and we got done studying. We actually met, the first time, was in a study hall.
BB: Huddle House over Waffle House?
RL: There was no Waffle House at the time. There were two Huddle Houses and no Waffle Houses. Waffle House came while I was in graduate school.
BB: OK. I thought you might prefer the silverware wrapped in plastic that sets Huddle House apart from Waffle House.
RL: (laughs) I have never noticed.
BB: You spent some of your summer as the official scorer for the Gwinnett Braves. What was the craziest play you had to figure out?
RL: (silent) I am trying to think how to word this without getting (G-Braves manager Dave) Brundage mad at me. The weirdest thing wasn't the calls per se, but when there was a close call ultimately if they wanted it changed it would get changed. Brundage and I had one or two we disagreed on. One, actually, this was an opposing coach, it was a leadoff hitter and he squared to bunt, they were telling him to sacrifice bunt but when he did it, it was a drag bunt. Even if you advance the runner on a drag bunt it can be implied by the scorer that he was going for a base hit. I inferred that he was going for a base hit. I did not give him a sacrifice. I got called on that one. It was one of those, to me it didn't matter. It didn't matter to the pitcher's ERA. It didn't affect anything. The guy was the leadoff hitter and the coach's argument was, "We tried to get him to square around, but he doesn't know how to square around." OK. What do I care. They were a lot more passionate about it than I was. OK.