From a wild-eyed, cheering fan’s perspective, the objective seems simple as the basketball players run up and down the court. The purpose is to simply win.
But Brandon Rinta, as a former all-league player at W.F. West High School and now as the head men’s basketball coach at Lewis-Clark State College, sees a bigger, broader goal. It’s also about shaping lives. Scoreboard management is only a portion of a coach’s job description.
“If you really want to get down to it,” Rinta said when asked about the role of a coach, “in my mind, we’re in a position to help young men grow and mature and become better people through the sport.”
It’s not that winning isn’t important. It’s just not the only goal. Rinta, in his fifth year as a head coach at LC State, is doing an excellent job at both tasks. The Warriors are coming off a trip to the NAIA national tournament and finished with a 29-5 record, the second best record in school history. After winning the Frontier Conference championship, LC State was ranked as high as a best-ever third in the NAIA polls.
Two years ago, Rinta was named NAIA men’s basketball coach of the year and was a finalist this year. Again, winning isn’t his only measuring stick. Integrity, his presence in a recruit’s living room as he talks with the parents and a perspective player, is another barometer. Gary Picone, LC State’s athletic director, is pleased by the program’s record and by Rinta’s persona. It’s a win-win situation.
“The biggest thing he’s done is that he brings a whole set of principle and character, all those things, along with a tremendous amount of competitiveness,” Picone said. “When you combine very high standards with his competitiveness, he’s really been outstanding for us. He’s really taken our program to another level. It was a pretty good program when he got here. We’ve had some success in the past, but he’s really elevated it.”
It was the third trip to the NAIA national tournament in Rinta’s five years at LC State. The Warriors earned an automatic bid to nationals this season after winning their second straight conference tournament championship. They also won the conference title, marking only the fifth time in school history they have won both in the same season.
But those wins – LC State has had 20-plus wins in four of the five seasons Rinta has been head coach – are part of his achievement.
“You look at it and you really only see the tip of the iceberg as far as on the court coaching,” Rinta said about coaching come game time. “Especially in college, that’s such a small part of it.”
He compared coaching to being a CEO of a small company.
“We’re managing a budget. We’re fundraising,” Rinta said. “We’re recruiting players and employees into this and that’s maybe the nuts and bolts of it on the business side of it.”
Interestingly, Rinta’s ambition to join the coaching profession, which is part instructor, part CEO and part counselor, first popped up when he was a junior at W.F. West, playing basketball for coach Dennis Bower.
“If you want to talk about overachieving, he’s written the book on it,” said Rinta, a 1995 graduate from W.F. West.
Two other coaches that pointed Rinta toward the coaching profession were Dean Nicholson and Leon Rice. Nicholson, the legendary coach from Central Washington University, coached Rinta at Yakima Valley Community College before Rinta transferred to Central. Rice was an assistant to Nicholson at Yakima Valley and is now the head coach at Boise State.
“To have the opportunity to play for Coach Nicholson in his final two years of coaching was something else,” Rinta said. “I’ve got a picture of him on my wall here. He checks in and he calls me and we talk a couple of times a year. They’ve been huge blessings in my coaching career.”
He saw the impact they had on him. Now, he’s trying to have that same positive impact on his players. Sometimes fans forget that even at the college level, players need mentors. Rinta hasn’t forgotten that many of his players – ages 18 to 21 – are still growing up.
“It’s such formative years,” Rinta said. “You are helping them really make the transition in their life.”
They’ve gone from the security of home to being on their own for the first time in their lives.
“You’re helping them make that transition and there’s a lot that comes into that,” Rinta said. “From an academic side to also they’re now living on their own for the first time, really making about every decision for themselves and you’re there for them during that time, through the ups and the downs and through the whole rollercoaster ride.”
Rinta, who was an assistant coach at Eastern Washington University for five years and Northwest Nazarene University for another five years before coming to LC State, has coaching in his blood. His dad, Don Rinta, is a longtime track coach at W.F. West.
So those Saturday afternoon game snapshots only give a glimpse, a brief portion of a coach’s life. There’s so much more to it, from the recruiting, to the counseling to the fundraising. It’s a world Rinta gladly embraces. As for his team’s success, he shares the credit.
“What we’ve been able to do here, so much of it revolves around the resources and support you’re given,” Rinta said. “The support here is greater than any other place I’ve been.”
It’s been the perfect match.