MISSOULA – Behind most of our Athletes of the Week, you’ll find a great coach. This time we turn the attention to a man who has spent over half a century helping on the mats. Big Sky’s Lanny Bryant will retire after this week’s state tournament, wrapping up a remarkable career.
Lanny Bryant didn’t want to leave wrestling after graduating from high school, which made his father question a few decisions.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you go to this school?’ I said, ‘Well, I want to coach, Dad,’” Bryant said. “And Dad said, ‘Well, you know coaches only stay in it for five or six or ten years.’”
Bryant certainly didn’t follow that trend. He took his first coaching job in Worland, Wyo., 55 years ago. But throughout the decades, he could always teach and relate with his teenage wrestlers.
“Lanny is a one-of-a-kind coach,” said Big Sky senior Jake Riekena. “You never see anybody at his age really rolling around with kids, and taking on kids and demonstrating still. He’s like 78 years old.”
“Any situation we get into, he’s always been through that,” added senior KJ Swanson. “Whether it’s with your weight, how to do a move, anything, he can help you with.”
Big Sky Eagles have benefited from Bryant’s experience for the past eight years, even if they didn’t know all that he had accomplished in the sport.
“I never realized how much he actually did,” admitted Riekena. “I knew he was around forever. The old joke always is he wrestled Abraham Lincoln. I didn’t realize how long his track sheet was.”
Bryant coached and taught at Missoula Hellgate from 1972-84, leading the Knights to their only state championship in 1978. He also briefly served as the head coach at Western Washington University (1970-72). And became the last head coach at Montana State in 1984.
The Bobcats folded their wrestling program thee years later. And Bryant turned his attention full-time to Wrestling USA Magazine. He helped start the publication that focuses on amateur wrestling 50 years ago. But he kept finding ways to coach, instructing U.S. junior national teams, before eventually landing at Big Sky.
Bryant celebrated countless wins and titles, but his most memorable accomplishments happened off the mat.
“My favorite part, honestly, is the kid that wouldn’t make it through high school, or is in trouble, and he gets back and he makes it through. That’s what really counts,” said Bryant.
Big Sky last reached the top three at state back in the 80s. But under Bryant’s leadership, this group wants a trophy, and has the talent and numbers to get it done. The Eagles qualified the third-most wrestlers in Class AA, with 19 advancing out of divisionals. Which gives the blue and gold confidence heading to Billings.
“We have a bunch of quality wrestlers and quality guys that I think we can definitely put a lot of guys into the second day and put up points for the team,” said Riekena.
“We have good numbers. And when you can produce points at sate, that’s all matters,” added Swanson. “Because at the end of the day on Saturday night, when you have JV kids that can place, that’s going to get your placing hopes maybe up to the top.”
“I think we have a good chance of coming home with the third place, second place. (I’m) praying for first place,” Bryant said with a smile.
He will feel mixed emotions during his last tournament. But don’t expect Bryant to stop wrestling in retirement.
“We sold the house. Bought a fifth-wheeler. And my wife wants to do some traveling. We’ve got all these grandkids,” said Bryant, who has five children and 19 grandchildren. “Looking forward to trying it out for the next couple, three years, just torturing grandkids.”