BOSTON—Sean Ryan’s odyssey to Burke High came after the firing of three straight bosses as he served as an assistant at the College of Charleston, BU, and Holy Cross. Consequently, his family moved seven times because of basketball and could never quite stay in the same place long enough to deem it home.
“College basketball is the greatest sport in the world. It’s also the craziest business to be involved with. The travel is the known, but the stability and uncertainty if you have a job the next year is an unknown,” Sean Ryan, the new boys’ basketball coach at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, told the Breitbart Sports of his decade-long grind as a college basketball coach.
Ryan, a former Boston Globe All-Scholastic, is the only Boston City League boys’ basketball coach culled from the ranks of a Division 1 program.
“For a while me, my wife and my son all slept on a couch together,” recalled Ryan. At his most recent post, Central Connecticut State, Ryan trekked two hours every day from his home in West Roxbury to New Britain, Connecticut, to finally keep his family in one place.
Symbolic of every endless morning commute, Ryan brought Dunkin Donuts munchkins to his children Max and Layla before dropping his two biggest fans at daycare. It was often dark when Ryan departed Massachusetts for CCSU. And when he returned home in the evening, after more Dunkin Donuts coffee stops, dinner was over and it was time to put his two children to bed.
“My paycheck went to gas, tolls, coffee, and Munchkins. But I loved coaching college basketball,” reflected Ryan.
While one may find it peculiar that someone would leave the highest level of their profession to take a high school job, Ryan is more than content with leading his own program after facing instability and misfortune as a D1 assistant.
During Ryan’s first Division 1 job, he learned just how backwards the business can be. During a two-year period as an assistant coach at the College of Charleston, the Cougars won 62 percent of their games but Ryan’s boss, Tom Herrion, won his walking papers (and an $800,000 buyout check) despite four consecutive winning seasons.
“In some ways, you put your future and your family’s future in the hands of someone or something else,” Ryan told Breitbart Sports.
After the Charleston staff was let go late in the recruiting season, Ryan and his wife packed their belongings into a U-Haul and drove 18 hours to rent an apartment on Dorchester Ave. in Boston. But even when he was unemployed, the game of basketball always called to Ryan.
“I loved working guys out. I’d drive around playgrounds in the city looking for games and high school players who wanted to work out,” Ryan explained.
Unlike many Division 1 coaches, Ryan has always found the game and those who play it more endearing than the D1 lifestyle of hotels, flights, televised games, and flashy gear.
If you’ve seen Ryan coach in practice, or run a player development session, his feel and ability to naturally transmit the game to others comes across. Current Towson University Head Coach Pat Skerry agrees. “In my 23 years of coaching, Sean is as talented as any coach I’ve worked with or for. He’s intelligent, innovative and a passionate worker,” said Skerry, who worked alongside Ryan at Charleston.
As the son of Charlie Ryan, a Massachusetts State Hall of Fame basketball coach at Lowell High School, where Ryan saw the power of sport transcend economic and color boundaries at an early age.
“As a kid, I always envied how his team’s success got a city like Lowell to come out and support with pride,” said Ryan who was present for most of his father’s 212 wins at Lowell High School.
In April, following a decade as New England’s basketball coaching nomad, with stops at College of Charleston, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Central Connecticut, Coach Ryan quit his post at CCSU and moved back to Boston to coach Burke.
“Look, basketball is basketball. I just love coaching kids,” said Ryan.
As a basketball program, the Burke has floundered at the bottom of a top-heavy city league for several seasons, but Ryan’s players have already felt the culture change since their new coach entered their school building in the fall.
“Coach Ryan has made me a harder worker, a man, and a better person in and out of the game of basketball. He changed how I see life, present and the future,” said Burke Junior Damonte Turner, an honor-roll guard, who has started to receive college interest from several Division 2 and academically prestigious Division 3 schools throughout New England.
Other city schools have witnessed marriages between strong athletics and academics manifest into gains in school achievement.
“Everyone–athletes, non-athletes, teachers, parents, and staff–feel that Coach Ryan brings to us just what we need to continue on our growth trajectory,” Principal Lindsa McIntyre told Breitbart Sports.
New Mission has dominated boys’ and girls’ city basketball for six years, and the school’s sustained academic growth has carried them to the state’s highest academic designation, Level 1. The Burke, too, has consistently trended forward under Principal McIntyre, a former science teacher at the school. This fall, the school attained another impressive first, achieving sustained success unmatched by its statewide peers.
“The Burke has strategically exited turnaround and its underperforming status to become a Level 3 school, the first high school in the Commonwealth to do so,” McIntyre noted.
“The teachers in this building are tremendous. They’re full of energy and Ms. McIntyre is a tireless leader. Every day I walk into the building, I’m enamored with how upbeat and energetic the staff is each morning,” Ryan explained.
Burke teachers and McIntyre hope their constant vigilance can break down walls and the reputation of Grove Hall and the school ascends to the state’s highest designation level. Burke basketball players anticipate that Coach Ryan will remain a fixture.
When the buzzer sounded after the Burke’s opening-night victory this winter over Boston Latin Academy, Ryan had more than the next morning’s munchkins to contemplate as he drove home to West Roxbury with his two children, Max and Layla, in the backseat. For the first season in years, he’ll be home in time for dinner.
Sean Flynn is a basketball enthusiast living in rural Kansas. Follow him on twitter @CoachSFlynn.