The Jackrabbits are hiring one of their own, as assistant coach and former Poly ace Erick Bryant will be taking the reins.
“I can’t really explain how I feel right now,” said Bryant after the announcement. “This is a dream come true—I’m excited.”
Bryant was the star pitcher on Poly’s 1985 team, which tied atop the standings for their first Moore League title since 1968. He’s made it clear for years that he wanted to step into the head spot at Poly, serving as an assistant coach from 2000-2007, then departing for five years to run the Cabrillo program, before returning as an assistant in 2013.
“I’m thrilled for him,” said outgoing coach Toby Hess. “He coached with me my first year and my last year, and we missed him every year in between. He really taps into that Poly family, he’s as invested in the Poly tradition as anyone you can find.”
Indeed, the announcement was made publicly for the first time at Poly’s freshman orientation on Friday afternoon, and the excitement from Bryant’s peers on campus was obvious. “You could see the love from Don Norford and Raul Lara,” said Hess. “People were excited that he got the job.”
“It’s a family there,” said Bryant. “The alumni, the community, all my friends—it’s a family, and they’re welcoming home.”
“EB has great rapport with the kids, a deep knowledge of baseball, and a record of success,” said Poly co-principal Joe Carlson. “We have faith that he’ll keep the program in good shape for us.”
That’s won’t be an easy task, as Bryant takes the helm after Poly graduates a class that helped re-define their program. Their entire infield will be gone, including USC-bound shortstop Frankie Rios, as will ace pitcher Chris Castellanos, who is headed to Stanford.
“I’m excited to take on this challenge with this young group,” said Bryant. “It’s a young, young group that we have, and we’re all going to try to fill the shoes of what coach Hess and the last few years’ teams have done.”
Carlson said there will be a slight modification to the titles for next year; Hess’ departure is now being termed a “leave of absence,” in the hopes that the school will be able to offer him a full-time position on campus before the Fall of 2014. As a result, Bryant will be tagged the “interim” head coach for next season.
On an historic note, Poly’s baseball team was the first organized sports team on the campus, playing their first games more than 100 years ago. A minor league donated green and gold uniforms to them, which is how the school got their official colors. In the century-plus since that first year, Long Beach’s oldest varsity high school team has never had an African-American head coach until Bryant.
“To be the first black coach, it means a lot,” he said. “I’m so thankful to principals Joe Carlson and Victor Jarels, and to our boys’ athletic director Rob Shock for giving me the opportunity.”