Keith Martin couldn't picture himself not coaching basketball. George Sisson was out of basketball coaching and feared he might not return.
Now they have switched positions and here's how it happened.
This summer, Jamestown Community College transformed its athletic department and Martin, who was manager of JCC's Total Fitness program, director of athletic advertising and marketing, in charge of summer sports camps and also coached women's basketball, was named the new athletic director. The plan included him giving up coaching the women's program after 13 seasons.
The "perfect" replacement was found when Sisson returned to the area from Arkansas to take over Martin's numerous positions at the college, including coaching his successful women's basketball team.
"We had to find the right person to replace me and my whole position," said Martin. And he stressed, "Total Fitness is a full-time position, coaching is a part-time position.''
Martin also noted, "Once the posting (for the position) went up I knew there was a good chance I wouldn't be coaching."
But he's pleased with who will be leading the Jayhawks.
"How could you dream of George coming back?," Martin asked. "They want this program to be in the right hands and we found the right person."
Sisson has been involved in basketball since he was a player in the seventh grade at Cassadaga Valley Central School. His coaching resume includes six years as an assistant and eight years as head coach at Roberts Wesleyan College, three years as head coach at Eastern Nazarene College (starting at the age of 23, which made him the youngest coach in the NCAA) and five years as an assistant for the JCC men's team when he changed careers to minor league baseball and worked for the Jamestown Jammers of the New York-Penn League.
But in 2008, Sisson took the position as director of stadium and baseball operations for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals of the Double-A Texas League. But while his minor league baseball career was moving up, he was totally out of basketball and missed it.
So when he received a call in July about taking Martin's position, his response was "Yeah, I'd be interested. Coaching has always been my passion and working in higher education, that's something I did for 18 years before I got into working in baseball."
In a whirlwind month, Sisson flew to Jamestown for an interview, flew back to Arkansas, was offered and accepted the JCC position and then moved his entire family back to this area.
"The nugget to teach and the opportunity to coach was a biggie," Sisson said is what clinched his decision to leave baseball and return to the campus life. "Once a coach, always a coach. It's a bad disease."
And he's not seeking a cure.
"They asked me (in the interview), 'What do you think about coaching women?,''' Sisson recalled. ''I said, 'I thought I was coaching basketball, I didn't think I was coaching gender."'
He added, "It's just coaching. We're going to do the same thing I've always done, it just happens to be young ladies instead of young men."
"I said the same thing," Martin said about his 1999 JCC interview about coaching a women's team for the first time in addition to being the assistant baseball coach. "He's going to coach like I did and have the same experience (coaching women) as I did."
So suddenly, Martin had the perfect coach to hand his program to.
"He's an outstanding coach, but more importantly, he's got an even bigger and better heart," Martin said. "And that's the most important thing to me. I know he'll care for our kids and our program."
And it's quite a program. From 11 wins in Martin's first season, the Jayhawks continued to improve and have appeared in the NJCAA Region 3 Division III championship game in six of the last seven seasons, which includes a regional title in 2009-10.
But Sisson pointed out there is more to JCC women's basketball.
"When you go back and research this program, it's not all about wins and losses," he said. "Even though he's got a lot of good wins and has done a wonderful job with a lot of local kids, the other thing he's done in this program is the academic success and the kids are moving on to four-year programs. He's taken this program to a level of consistency, not only on the court, but off the court."
Now that things are settling down, Martin has realized he won't be coaching.
"There were things spinning so fast that I still don't know if it's hit me," he said about hiring two other head coaches in addition to Sisson and two assistants. "Unfortunately, it kind of put basketball on the back burner at that point in time. I really didn't have time to say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm not going to coach any more.' It hasn't hit me. I know the first day of practice (Oct. 1) it will be awful. That day will be hard. And of course, the first game."
Sisson knows all about that and recalled his time in Arkansas without coaching.
"Every September there was a hollowness in there," he said. "That (his first year) was probably the hardest offseason I had because that was the first time in 22 or 23 years I'm not coaching and I struggled with it. I couldn't watch it on TV, I couldn't go to any high school games. That's all I did in the winter was basketball and all of a suddenly it was gone."
But while Sisson is back to basketball coaching, Martin will be back to his family, which includes wife, Molly, and son, Zack (13), and daughter, Emma (10).
"Molly and the kids deserve their husband and their dad a little bit more," he said.
And he's ready to help the Jayhawks in other ways.
"In 24 years of college coaching I've given to 15 kids (on a basketball team) or 24 kids (on a baseball team), '' Martin said. "The way I look at it is that I did a lot for those kids, now I can do things for 150 to 200 kids and make their college experience better by being the athletic director."