Athens Review, Athens, Texas

June 13, 2013

JAYSON LARSON: New CRISD boss knows a thing or two about success

Jayson Larson
The Athens Review

CROSS ROADS — Leland Hand is like other coaches I’ve met through the years in a sense that he’s gracious enough to talk about his days as a head basketball coach but humble in a way that makes him guarded so as not to look like a braggart in the newspaper.

So for the record, what follows is based on a conversation I sought to have with Hand — not one he sought to have with me.

I couldn’t help it. When you find out the new superintendent at Cross Roads ISD walked away from one of the most successful coaching runs in East Texas basketball history to eventually pursue his dream of being a school administrator, heck, you gotta talk to that guy, don’t you?

Yeah, he’s that Leland Hand — the one who as head coach led Troup’s varsity boys basketball teams to the state tournament in Austin in seven of his 11 years at the school. Those teams won two Class 2A state championships (in the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons) and, at one point, held a state record for most consecutive district wins at 118. Let me save you from the math — with Hand at the helm, Troup didn’t lose a district game for 10 years.

Hand’s 1992 team finished 35-1, blowing out Krum by 20 in the state championship game after beating Poth in the state semifinals by 44. That team, which Hand said was his best, won by an average margin of victory of about 31 points per game — in the playoffs, that is.

The next year, Troup went 33-5 and whipped teams in the playoffs by a margin of about 22 per game en route to a second consecutive title.

“It was a fun run, it really was,” Hand said. “We were very athletic and very intelligent, and that’s hard to beat. We were known for our scramble press ... and it was hard to handle. We pressed you from the time you got off the bus. We were relentless.”

He parlayed his success there into a job as the head men’s basketball coach at East Texas Baptist University  in Marshall — where he played collegiately. His coaching years, however, were numbered.

In 2000, Hand was one of three finalists for the head men’s basketball job at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. He didn’t get the job and soon began shifting his focus from the court to campus administration.

He worked at several districts, serving as a principal at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. He spent time at Warren ISD in southeast Texas as an assistant superintendent and then returned to East Texas to work as Winona High School’s principal the past seven years.

Upon arriving at Winona, Hand set a goal to help the high school achieve “exemplary” status from the state of Texas and to help lead students to UIL academic championships. He did both, with Winona earning an exemplary rating in four years.

“The team we assembled upon my arrival accomplished some great things,” he said.

He has a mind to do the same at Cross Roads. When he gets there, he won’t exactly be a stranger to the area.

Hand arrived at Troup in 1987. His team faced a big test in the first half of the season at the always-competitive Tyler Junior College Christmas tournament. Troup ended up winning the championship, beating Roger Goode’s Brownsboro Bears in the title game. Hand says the win was a big step forward for the program.

A bigger win would come the next year, when Troup shocked Class 2A by knocking off 35-0 Edgewood in the regional championship game played at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens.

And that 118-game winning streak? It came to an end during the 1995 regular season against district foe LaPoynor and 6-11 super-duper star Steven Eldridge. Head coach Dwane Nichols went on to lead LaPoynor to the state championship despite Troup winning the district title.

Upon his arrival at ETBU, Hand met and became good friends with the school’s women’s basketball coach at that time, Michael Landers — who would go on and lead Trinity Valley to a pair of national championships.

So really, it’s all coming full circle for Hand. Except now he’s a life coach, not a basketball coach.

“I have a love for kids,” Hand said. “It’s been my passion to reach kids, and there’s no better way than through education.”

Jayson Larson is editor of the Athens Review. Drop him a line via e-mail at editor@athensreview.com.