Life father, like son
By BRANDON HURLEY
The agony of defeat was well worth it for a pair of family members forever united by basketball.
A winless season certainly isn’t the most ideal way to begin a head coaching career, but with your father next to you riding the bench each night, it makes for a tad easier transition.
Grand Junction native and East Greene grad Aaron Lyons and his mentor and dad Dean, a long-time East Greene and Greene County basketball coach, have finally achieved a life-long dream. They spent this past season as members on the Perry boys’ basketball staff, with a little twist. The mentee (Aaron), has become the top dog, hiring his dad as one of his first moves once the 25-year old was officially named head coach.
Despite this winter’s shortcomings, Aaron was prepared. He’d learned from his greatest mentor, of course, and how to deal with disappointment.
Though Dean sees their coaching partnership almost as a figurative lifetime achievement award – the veteran first caught the coaching bug back in 1988, a full three decades ago – Aaron finds it hard to believe he shares a bench with his father. He’s never forgotten what his dad taught him all the years before.
“The biggest thing (with him) is, every day is a new day,” Aaron said. “I’ve seen him coach some really good teams and some bad ones. As a first year coach, it’s easy to get discouraged. But what I learned, each day, it’s how we are going to attack it.”
Dean, a father of four active kids, all who seemed to gravitate toward basketball, appreciates his good fortune after stepping down from basketball duties in Jefferson last winter. Though the Bluejays may not be winning games at the moment, he knows his son will turn it around, and feels fortunate to be part of the journey.
“I am one of the luckiest guys in the world. I’ve had the opportunity to coach all four of my kids. I get to coach basketball with my son, a sport I love,” the coach said. “It’s been a blast.”
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Aaron was not simply just interested in basketball as a kid, it shaped who he became as a person. From an early age, Dean saw the competitive spirit. Aaron – like all four of the Lyons’ kids, Eliza, Brock and Laurin did – attended as many of his dad’s games and practices as he could, breathing in the intricacies of a layup drill, analyzing his dad’s scripted plays and how he handled relationships with his players. But, Aaron was a little different than the others. He exhibited the early fire that Dean knew took to be a head coach.
Quickly, the love for basketball – and sports in general – blossomed into an obsession.
“I fell in love with the process,” Aaron said.
Lyons was a second team Rolling Hills Conference selection his senior year in 2011, helping the Hawks to a 18-5 overall record and 12-2 record in league play. He averaged 8.5 points and four assists per game.
East Greene lost to 10th-ranked Colo-Nesco in the district semifinals.
Dean Lyons has been a coaching mainstay in Greene County for three decades. He was the boys’ basketball coach for East Greene for more than 20 years and spent the last handful with the Greene County girls prior to resigning last winter. He’s still an assistant with the Ram track and field program.
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It’s hard to miss Aaron on the sidelines. He’s flamboyant, loud and always coaching. You may hear his voice more often than not, but it’s usually in a teaching moment, rarely, if ever berating the refs, and certainly not dressing down his athletes.
His controlled ability to parade around the sidelines is a far cry from what Dean is like as a coach now.
“I’m a lot more vocal than he is, that’s how I am, I’m a pretty passionate guy. I’m energetic during games,” Aaron said. “He gets fiery at times, but he knows his role really well.”
Dean has taken a notice to his son’s well-timed and encouraging antics. There’s more to it than just a passion to win. He’s a people person, which has allowed him to quickly rise up the coaching ranks, first as a Greene County JV coach, which later led to an assistant job at Perry. It’s all part of the process, Dean said.
“He’s a guy who can talk and relate to everybody,” Aaron’s father said. “He remembers names. He’s not shy. Not bashful. The kids respect him for that.”
The Lyons dynamic struck it hot almost instantly, even if the wins struggled to follow. The Bluejays graduated 11 seniors from last year’s team, a unit that won only five games. Perry has a fairly deep tradition, a program that reached the state tournament as recently as of 2016. Aaron knows he’ll need to lean on his father more than usual during these trying times. Good thing he’s got a guy on his staff that’s been through quite a bit already.
“I don’t trust anyone better than my dad,” Aaron said. “Our relationship has been great. I think the kids really enjoy having him around.”
The Lyons’ first official game as partners was a bit unusual, to say the least.
The Bluejays hosted Greene County on Nov. 27, setting in motion a wave of mixed emotions. Dean had spent the previous four years coaching the Ram girls’ team and is still an assistant track coach for the Greene County boys’ team. Aaron was JV basketball coach two years ago, so of course, the duo was quite familiar with many of the players on the court that evening.
Dean was, to be frank, anxiously waiting for the game to get over with. Due to 30 years spent coaching within the confines of Greene County, this was too strange of a scenario, coaching on the other side. Not even a full year ago Dean was riding the bus to and from road games with the Greene County boys’ basketball team. It was an experience like nothing before.
“I was hoping it would get canceled, it felt weird,” the elder Lyons said. “I didn’t feel right. I enjoy the kids from Greene County and I had great times there. But at the same time, I’m making great (memories in) Perry.
I didn’t want to play the game. It’s hard to explain. You want your son to do great, but then you want the other teams to do well, too. It would’ve been a lot different if Aaron wasn’t there.”
Greene County came out on top, 69-46, but it was an interesting treat for the Lyons duo. Aaron was on the cusp of the transition to Greene County during his final high school days. He remembers taking classes at Jefferson-Scranton and the bonds he formed there. His first moments as a varsity head coach were a little surreal.
“There was a lot of mixed feelings,” Aaron said. “There is a rivalry there. It was different but I have respect for them. Greene County has a really special place in my heart and it all came full circle.”
A wave of emotions flew over Aaron as he took to the sideline for the first time. It all had arrived so quickly, and now he was leading a 3A school, barely even removed from college.
“I was very superstitious. It didn’t really hit me until I walked out there,” Aaron said. “To (be a head coach) at such a young age is rare. It was a goal of mine, now I’ve checked it off my bucket list.”
Despite the opening year rough patch – Perry was 0-21 this winter without a single victory – Dean is confident his son will turn things around. He truly loves the profession, and to create such an intense connection at an early age is something the father believes will take Aaron a long way, if only for the way the youngster dissects scouting reports with unrivaled detail.
“He watches so much game film,” Dean said. “I’ve never seen that before, he has his scouting report down to a T.”
In the end, Aaron knows basketball isn’t the entirety of his athlete’s lives, especially as the Bluejays endured one of the worst seasons in their storied history this past winter. Which is why the coach focuses on teaching most. He wants his kids to become better ball players, and above all else, better people.
“I challenge (them). I get after them because I care. Basketball is only half of what you do, I want you to be better kids,” Aaron said. “Building relationships have been huge.”
Three decades in and the eldest Lyons is still motivated by his profession of choice. And he’s still linked to the Greene County school district, as he joined Chad Morton’s staff as an assistant with the boys’ track and field team. There’s something about coaching that keeps him hooked.
“It makes you feel young,” Dean said. “I enjoy the kids. I like seeing the growth and development, seeing the confidence by the time they are a senior. I love the sport (of basketball). It’s a challenge, every year is different.
“I always tell Aaron, the good trumps the bad,” Dean said. “It’s why I love it.
This first season has been tough, but it’s made him even more hungry.”
Someday, the good may turn into a college gig for the younger Lyons. Only time will tell as he continues to build relationships and coach the sport that runs so deep in the family bloodline.