Archdeacon: Chris Grant, former Beavercreek athlete and WSU rising star, continuing fast climb in college sports

It was a familiar walk down the long, steep ramp at UD Arena the other night, but he wore a different color than those many people here remember him wearing when he used to head out onto the court.

Chris Grant was smartly dressed in a blue suit, which matched the blue in the uniforms of the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders, who were about to meet Southeast Missouri State in the First Four.

A couple of decades ago, Grant would make this same trek in orange and black, the colors of Beavercreek High, where he played basketball and football and ran track.

“We won a lot of games here at UD Arena with those Beavercreek teams,” he said.

Grant was back home as the Commissioner of the Southland Conference, which includes Texas A&M Corpus Christi and nine other schools across Texas and Louisiana.

He’s been in the job a year and already has made a splash.

And that’s not just because he made history as the first Black commissioner in the league’s 60 years of existence.

He’s credited with fortifying the conference after it began to crumble when five schools left the league a year before he took over. He kept other schools from bolting, helped Lamar University come back a year after it left and added Texas A&M Commerce.

As he has done at his other stops — from Wright State to Conference USA and especially at the Pac-12 — he’s fostered programs that broaden the experiences of the student athletes under his purview.

With the Southland Conference, he said he’s helping guide over 4,000 athletes

He credits much of his steady ascension and personable approach to the three years he spent at Wright State as an assistant athletics director under AD Bob Grant.

“A lot of people at Wright State poured the ideas and ways into me that helped me grow and be a better administrator,” Grant said. “Bob Grant especially set a bigger vision for me.

“He told me I could be a leader in the NCAA if I positioned myself.”

Growing up in sports

Grant’s first vision, though, came from his dad, Michael Grant, who is now the vice president/athletics director at Talladega College in Alabama.

But during Chris’ days as a three-sport athlete at Beavercreek High, his dad was the successful head basketball coach at Central State, where, as I wrote back then, he was “the best dressed coach in the Miami Valley.”

He looked like he belonged on Project Runway, not the sideline at Beacom/Lewis Gym.

I remember him once telling me he had 50 suits and 20 pairs of dress shoes in his closet.

The one thing bigger than his sartorial look, though, was his familial embrace.

“Chris, my wife, our family, they came with me everywhere,” he said Thursday. “Chris was in the gym almost from the time he could walk.

“He’d be on every bus ride. He felt he was one of the guys. He felt part of the team. And when we came in and put our hands in the huddle and said, ‘1, 2, 3, let’s go!’ he had his hand in there and was saying ‘1, 2, 3, let’s go!’”

But as he got older, Chris realized that while he wanted to stay in athletics, he wanted to do something besides coach.

“When I started off, my dad showed me one side of the coaching business and I knew I wasn’t cut out for that,” he said. “I wanted to be more stable and not move town to town.”

In his career, Michael Grant was an assistant at Malone — where he played college basketball — as well as at Michigan, where his brother, Gary, was an All-American guard before going on to a long pro career.

He also was on the staffs at Alleghany, Kentucky State and Cleveland State.

Central State was his first head coaching job, and after seven seasons (1996 to 2003), he took over at Southern University, then was an assistant at Toledo for a year. After that, he led Stillman College and Coppin State.

He was an associate athletics director at Morehouse College in Atlanta and now, in just 10 months at Talladega, he’s helped the athletic department grow from 13 to 20 teams and become just the second HBCU to add women’s gymnastics, plus he is shepherding the program from NAIA status into the NCAA Division II, where it will join the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), the league Central State is in.

While his dad was at CSU, Chris witnessed firsthand the school’s HBCU rivalry with Kentucky State and after high school he went to KSU on a scholarship.

He lettered all four years as a free safety on the football team and graduated cum laude.

At Wright State he oversaw the track and field program and golf, but also worked with baseball and basketball.

“I’m just such a fan of his,” Bob Grant said Thursday afternoon

“If I’m not mistaken, he was selling phones for AT&T or something when he came to us. Although he’d played college football, he had no athletic (department) experience per se. But we’re not making widgets here. We’re trying to model behavior for some 250 student-athletes who are 18 to 22 years old.

“He has that infectious personality and we wanted that around our athletes. He took to our culture and he was as good of a fit for us as we were for him.

“I love Chris Grant.”

A quick rise

After serving as director of sport services at Conference USA, Chris became an associate commissioner of sports management and championships with the Pac-12.

While there, he made inclusiveness part of his focus and established a Diversity Mentorship Program with the league’s women’s volleyball coaches. He also worked with Major League Baseball to address diversity issues in college baseball.

These days he and his dad often are in contact.

“I am so proud of him and where he has taken his career,” his dad said. “For him to be the first black commissioner in the Southland Conference is historical. It means something.

“We talk and run ideas by each other. We lean on each other.

“In all my years in athletics there aren’t a lot of things I haven’t seen, but he’s been at a higher level than me with the Pac-12 and all their resources, so he has different insights and I rely on him for a lot of that.”

He noted how his son was “great at drawing people to him” and how he takes great pride “helping coaches move their programs forward.”

This week Chris’ prime concern was Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which pushed aside Southeast Missouri State, 75-71, and put them up against No. 1 overall seed Alabama on Thursday in Birmingham

Islanders head coach Steve Lutz said Wednesday he was going to take his team — 24-point underdogs to the Crimson Tide — to Mass before Thursday’s game.

It didn’t help.

Alabama won, 96-75

But the Islanders will return to Corpus Christi with an NCAA Tournament victory in their ledger. And Grant went back home with some memories, as well.

“There’s no better experience than coming back home to Dayton,” he had said just before the First Four tipoff. “It will be even better if we can get a win here at the Arena.”

Then with a final smile, he added:

“That would take me back to the Beavercreek days when we used to come in here and beat up on Fairmont.”

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