Monday can’t get here soon enough for Kris Stewart, the new head coach of the basketball team at Brenau University. After all, he’s been waiting for this opportunity the majority of his adult life.
“I can’t even describe how excited I am,” said Stewart, a former assistant at Lees-McRae College (N.C.) who was given his first head coaching job May 18 with a start date of June 6. “I wasn’t sure it was going to happen because I stopped coaching for a while.”
Stewart, who graduated from Duluth High in 1993, went on a brief coaching hiatus because he wanted to spend more time with his family, and it’s no surprise they were the first people he told about his new job.
“I ran in and told my wife,” said Stewart, who has two daughters. “It’s a good opportunity for my family.”
It’s a great opportunity for Stewart, who started his coaching career as an assistant at a high school in North Carolina before moving to Division III’s Austin College (Texas). After a stint in Division III, Stewart became the head girls coach at Forbush High where he guided the Lady Falcons to five straight playoff appearances and a 74-42 record. He left in 2007 to go back to his alma mater, Lees-McRae.
That’s a pretty extensive resume for someone who only ran track in high school.
“I’m a much better coach than athlete,” Stewart said. “I’ve always loved the mental aspect of coaching. The Xs and Os have always been intriguing for me. It’s a natural fit.”
It especially works with female athletes, the only gender Stewart has ever coached.
“I think my personality fits the female athletes,” he said. “It’s a good fit for the way I address things and the way I go about things.
“I can get fired up, but I’m not a yeller or a screamer,” he added. “I’m a communicator, and that helps with women.”
Those communication skills and an impressive list of references helped land Stewart the job at Brenau, which received more than 100 applicants for the coaching vacancy.
“I think he’s coming into a situation that’s well suited for him,” Brenau athletics director Mike Lochstampfor said. “The team is young, and they’ll require the leadership he can provide for them.”
Taking over a team of players he didn’t recruit is one of the challenges Stewart is facing, but that’s not going to stop him from making changes on offense and defense.
“I’d like to push the tempo because I think it creates easier opportunities,” Stewart said. “I want to be very balanced, and it’s going to be a difficult transition because the players are already in place.”
The Golden Tigers are coming off a 13-16 season in which they averaged 63 points per game under former coach Gary Bays, who resigned at the end of last year.
“They’re athletic and young,” Stewart said of his new team he’s seen only on game film. “I think they have a lot of talent, but they need to be more disciplined on both ends of the floor.”
Despite all the work in front of him, Stewart is confident.
“I don’t know how realistic it is, but I hope to step in and compete from Day 1,” he said. “You need to set the goals high to reach a high level. I would like to win a conference championship, but I definitely want to make the playoffs.”
If that goal doesn’t happen in his first year, Stewart knows he won’t have to go far to help build a program.
“Location is integral for what I am going to do,” he said when asked about the tradition of female basketball players in and around Hall County. “It’s a win-win because they’re familiar with the area and have families that can show up. You’re not only getting basketball players, but you’re getting support from the community.
“It’s how you build a program.”