To those who loved him and played for him, he was simply and affectionately called “Coach,” and it was not solely because of his success on the football field, friends and family said.
L.Z. Bryan, the longtime Brazoswood High School football coach who led the Buccaneers to their lone state championship, died Monday at Methodist Hospital in Houston. He was 80.
“He was one of those rare men that had the ability to get the most out of any individual, no matter how talented,” said former Lake Jackson Mayor Jim Martin.
“He made everybody he touched a better person, and he’ll be irreplaceable.”
Martin was a senior on the 1974 Brazoswood team that went 14-1 and won the state title with a 22-12 victory over Mesquite in Austin. That season, Bryan’s team played five games in the playoffs, and more than 20,000 Buccaneer fans filled the Astrodome in Houston to watch wins against San Antonio Churchill and Port Neches.
After a 12-year stint at Brazosport, Bryan led the Buccaneer football program for 18 years — from its inception as a junior varsity team in 1969 to his final season in 1986 — and spent the next three years as Brazosport ISD athletics director before retiring in 1990.
He is Brazoswood’s all-time winningest coach with a 150-40-6 record. Bryan’s Buccaneer teams played to 14 consecutive winning seasons from 1970 to 1983, and reached the playoffs nine times.
“I had so much respect for him,” said former player Kurt Zeitler, a senior on the 1974 squad. “He was very important and influential in my life. I learned a lot of mental and physical toughness from him that helped me through some tough times.”
Zeitler thought of taking the day off work Tuesday after learning of Bryan’s death, “but I knew that’s not what Coach would’ve wanted me to do.”
Bryan coached for 42 years and is a member of the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor and the Houston Football Coaches Association Hall of Honor. He was named as a district coach of the year seven times, was the former president of the Texas High School Coaches Association and, in 2004, the field house at Hopper Field was dedicated in his honor.
On the field, Bryan was known as a fair disciplinarian who demanded hard work from his players.
“The thing I didn’t realize until later in life was the way he didn’t treat everybody the same way, and by doing that made us our best,” Zeitler said. “We all had the same rules we had to follow, but he knew how he needed to treat each player to inspire them the most. He knew the kids he needed to chew out and the ones he needed to be more sensitive with and lay off.
“He was able to adjust those techniques with each kid’s personality and made us the best we could be.”
Current Brazoswood head football coach Dean DeAtley lined up against Bryan’s Buccaneer teams as a player at Victoria High School.
“He was an icon, not only here, but around the state,” DeAtley said. “In the ’70s, Brazoswood was the place to be, and teams across the state would emulate what was going on here.
“Those Brazoswood teams were very disciplined, hard-nosed and tough — that really showed his personality. He was a tough guy and was a lot of fun to be around. I always considered him a friend, and he will be sorely missed.”
In a Sept. 29, 2006, column in The Facts written by his great-grandson, Blake Lapier, Bryan said his greatest accomplishment as a coach was “watching the progress of the men that played under me.”
“When he told a story, his stories were about the kids and their relationships,” DeAtley said. “I don’t think he told me once any of the scores in those games. He won enough, and winning wasn’t the most important thing for him. It was about building those relationships and helping his kids.
“He had hundreds of stories about football, and that’s what they were all about.”
Bryan is survived by his wife, Helen Laura; daughter, Barbara and her husband, Melvin W. (Pinky) Anders, of Lake Jackson; daughter, Nancy and her husband, John R. Gilbert of Lake Jackson; and son, Larry Bryan and his wife, Cheryl, of Houston.
Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Restwood Funeral Home in Lake Jackson. Memorial services will be 2:30 p.m. Friday at Lake Jackson First United Methodist Church.
“It’s 35 years this football season since we won state and it seems like yesterday,” Martin said. “I’ll never forget what we did in 1974, and I’ll never forget L.Z. Bryan.”