Coach Chris Bess: From player, to assistant coach, to Edinboro Athletics leader

Category:  Sports
Friday, November 22nd, 2019 at 11:20 AM

As you walk through the door of Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach Chris Bess’ office, several things catch your eye.

The first, the coach himself working diligently at his desk. The second, his welcoming smile typically followed by a “What’s up?,” or “Hey there!” The third, a picture on the top left corner of his desk.

That photo? The coach himself dribbling down the court. Across his chest reads “Edinboro.”

Bess was both a basketball and football player in high school, and after being recruited by former Edinboro Head Coach Wayne Bradford, he found himself a Fighting Scot on the football field in 2006. He redshirted his freshman year after an injury during preseason, while playing in a handful of games his sophomore year.

“I was a basketball player my entire life, so that itch to play was still there,” said Bess. He then approached Pat Cleary — the assistant coach of the men’s team at the time — about playing for Edinboro. A few days later, he was on the court.

In his collegiate career, Bess topped 500 points and nabbed nearly 300 rebounds.

“We had a special run my sophomore year playing basketball,” said Bess of memories. The team went 24-7 and made it to the PSAC Championships that season (they’d fall to California University). They’d also make their mark in the national tournament.

“Making it to the NCAA tournament — you have 200-plus teams competing for 64 spots, and when you get there, whether you win it or not, it’s a special feeling.”

Bess told a story of one memorable moment in his time as a Fighting Scot.

During his junior campaign, he received the 2009 Edinboro University Ebony Excellence Man of the Year Award. The award ceremony took place on the same day as the team’s match-up against Gannon University. He was unable to ride the bus with his team to the game, but rather rode with his parents who surprised him and came to both the ceremony and the game.

Bess had a total of 17 points on the night, including three 3-pointers.

“To me, that was one of my biggest accomplishments. I wish we had won the game, but personally it was probably my best game.”

When Bess walked across the stage at graduation, he knew exactly what was next.

“I was very proactive as a senior. I knew that basketball wasn’t something that I wanted to pursue at the next level. So, come January to February of my senior year, I was going to career days, doing mock interviews with the career center, and following all those steps,” he explained.

As only the second to graduate from college in his family, Bess had the goal to utilize his degree in financial services to the fullest. He had a job offer from a real estate company around the end of March during his senior year.

“I graduated May 8, and I started working in real estate on May 10. So, I literally after graduation had to move everything back into my parent’s house, go get my fresh suit for my first day of work, and I was right at it,” he said with a full smile.

As Bess began working as a businessman — something he had wanted to do since he was little — he kept the game of basketball near.

“I worked at Quicken Loans for a year and a half doing real estate [and] mortgage transactions; I was a mortgage banker. At that time, I was coaching high school basketball at my high school alma mater. I was splitting time between junior varsity and varsity, but while I was at work all I could think about was basketball — coaching basketball.”

His demanding career kept him busy and left few hours in the day for him to be around the game that he loves.

“I made the decision after a year and a half. My heart wasn’t in it any more. I wanted to find something that would allow me to have the free time to be involved in basketball,” he said.

Bess soon found exactly that and moved on to work at a car dealership where the hours were very tailored to his own schedule. This gave him the time to not only continue coaching but to begin working with clinics and his own skills development business.

After a few months at the dealership, the winter months hit and not many were in the market for cars. It was at this point where Bess decided it was time for another change.

“I was fortunate enough to land an HR job at an engineering company, which really gave me the balance,” he said. Here, he worked 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., providing him the further chance to coach high school and expand his business.

Then, in March 2013, former Edinboro Head Coach Greg Walcavich announced his retirement.

“That day that I found out he was going to retire, Coach Cleary called me and said, ‘If I get this opportunity, I want you to work with me,’” Bess explained.

Cleary made good on his promise and Bess was named assistant men’s coach.

“I was 25 and I was the youngest assistant in the league. The youngest assistant in the building,” Bess added. “Anne [Cleary] is two months older than me. So, we were the two youngest coaches walking around and the rest is history.”

Many things had changed about Edinboro since Bess walked the campus as a student.

“They had just begun to knock down Scranton and Shafer halls to make room for the Highlands,” he said.

He also mentioned that buildings like Butterfield, Cooper and Ross all received renovations in the years he was away, while the ‘Boro sky bridge had made its way above the campus loop.

On the wall next to his desk hangs a white board calendar. The calendar is full of practice times, meeting times and games. The coach has always been one to remain busy.

During his time as a student, and on a typical day in January, Bess was in spring training for football and in midseason form for basketball. His days would begin at 6 a.m. with lifting for the former. After a few hours of class, he would go to work at the financial aid office. Bess would then head back to McComb for basketball practice and finish up his day at study tables as a tutor.

Since returning to ‘Boro, Bess has predictably taken on many responsibilities.

“My first year, I was strictly men’s basketball. My second year, I took over as one of the co-advisors for study tables, which is pretty cool because I worked it as a tutor, and I was in it as a freshman, so I kind of knew it from all sides,” he explained.

Now, Bess holds the titles of assistant women’s basketball coach and special assistant to the athletic director. His responsibilities range from advisor to the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC), community service efforts, and strengthening relationships throughout the campus and community.

Behind his desk also hangs a large classroom-sized white board with practice notes and formations.
As a coach, Bess is locked in on what’s happening on the court. In fact, he’s so laser-focused on the game that he doesn’t notice much else around the gym.

“It’s kind of weird because I don’t hear anything. My wife, she’s like, ‘You didn’t hear me yelling?,” he said, chuckling.

“The game of basketball is played off the ball. The other eight players are really going to determine what’s going to happen, so being able to see what’s going to happen [and] just getting that ability to see all 10 players is what I focus on in being a coach.”

Bess has a strong love for the game and a good motivation for why he coaches: “The passion comes from helping the young people.”

“Coaching is a little different because everybody thinks it’s about the win, but if it’s about the win then you’re in the wrong business. It’s really about the young people we affect ... the opportunities that we can give them,” he explained.

Bess continued: “Just seeing the success that they have and knowing that you had a part in their story is huge. Just seeing them mature, develop and knowing that you were able to have a page in their story is pretty cool.”

On the same white board behind his desk at the bottom, you can find small pictures or writings by the coach’s son.

With the basketball season being so long, Bess spends as much time with his wife and son as he can.

After thinking out loud for a minute, he summarized his free time in one sentence: “Probably the three biggest things: family, golf and do nothing,” he said, laughing.

Bess admitted that he didn’t originally see himself returning to Edinboro as he walked across the graduation stage.

“I was one of those athletes that never thought I’d be a coach. I always knew that I had a good IQ, but I always pictured myself in a suit and tie going to work every day,” he said.

Almost 10 years later, though, Bess has brought the best of both worlds together with his positions here at Edinboro.

“To find a place that gave me an opportunity to stay all the way through — they provided me opportunities to work, to play multiple sports, to develop relationships all across campus — it’s always going to be a special place to me. To be back and to be able to give back to the next generation is even better.”

“I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without Edinboro, so it’ll be a special place forever,” Bess concluded.

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