By Maurice Patton
COLUMBIA — Colton Bryant and Columbia State athletic officials mutually agreed to part ways recently, bringing an end to his three-year stint as the founding coach of the Lady Charger women’s soccer program.
“It became clear that maybe I didn’t need to be part of the project,” Bryant said when contacted Thursday – a week after he announced his departure via social media. “The way things occurred were surprising and unfortunate.”
According to C-State athletics director Johnny Littrell, Bryant’s departure was prompted by an overambitious recruiting approach.
“He did a really good job with the program – coaching the girls, recruiting, he did a really good job. His record shows that,” Littrell said. “But there’s more to it. Some things we didn’t agree with. He wanted to carry the program in a different direction than the college set it up for.
“We put the program together because of a supply of athletes in our service area. We’re in a hotbed for soccer. Any coach that wants to be a national champion probably has to reach out farther. Our college is limited as to how many (out-of-state waivers) we can allow. He just wasn’t going to be satisfied.”
After Columbia State went 4-4 in the fall of 2018 – its initial season – with a victory in its debut and one over TCCAA rival Motlow State, the Lady Chargers finished 12-6 and won the conference tournament the following year.
With the 2020 season postponed until the just-completed spring semester and then shortened because of the pandemic, Columbia State finished 7-1 and was ranked as high as No. 14 nationally. The Lady Chargers outscored their regular-season opponents 27-4.
“I do believe we could have won a national championship,” Bryant said. “With our recruiting, combined with a sheer belief in what we were building, we had everything we needed.”
The former coach said budgetary issues were a bigger concern than recruiting – but that had not always been the case.
“From Year 1 to Year 3, they improved tremendously,” he said. “I was really happy with it. I was happy with everything until there were things added that you couldn’t use your budget the way you wanted to use it.
“We were No. 14 nationally. I couldn’t come to grips with what was wrong with that direction.”
Both Bryant and Littrell stressed there was little animosity connected to the decision.
“He did a good job getting the program established,” Littrell said. “We won the conference the last two years. I don’t hold anything against him. We’ve just got to go by the policies of the (Tennessee Board of Regents), the TCCAA, the NJCAA. If that’s not enough, what else can we do?
“We want to stay as close to our local players as we can. We get eight out-of-state waivers for women’s soccer, softball and baseball; that’s based on a percentage of 24 scholarships allowed, set by the TCCAA. Basketball gets 15 scholarships and five waivers.”
“I would say we had more players on our roster from within an hour’s drive of campus than either of the other women’s programs combined,” Bryant said. “I’m not upset. We just had to go down different paths.”
Assistant Katie Willingham is filling the coaching position on an interim basis, with Littrell expressing hope of naming a permanent successor to Bryant by the end of June.
“It puts pressure on us; the season starts in August,” Littrell said. “There’s not a whole lot of time. But we’ve already had several apply. We just have to go through the process. Our intention is not to let the program fall at all.
“We wish (Bryant) the best.”