It’s no secret he is easily the most animated coach in Warren County and when asked, he smiled and nodded his head yes.
He is well known for his colorful antics on the sideline during Pioneer basketball season. He is Warren County High School basketball head coach Chris Sullens.
Sullens was born and raised in Warren County and he was around 6 when he decided to pick up the game of basketball. He liked sports and was very competitive at a young age. When Sullens reached fourth and fifth grades, he felt he could compete. After he tried his hand in the Jaycee league, he made the team at Northside.
His first school basketball was played at Northside School where he was coached by David Dunlap. He continued playing in junior high, which, at the time, was for grades 7-9. Coaches Keith Maxwell and Charlie Dalton were the coaches there. Upon his arrival at high school, Stan and Andy Jacobs gave him the opportunity to play at the next level.
With only three years of availability in high school, Sullens knew the number of positions on the team were limited and playing time would be slim. He played behind Bill Rutledge and Gary Driver so he learned at a young age hard work was the only way he would get minutes on the floor. He had to do a lot of little things that did not necessarily make the stat sheet.
Sullens said, “To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could even make the team with Stan and Andy when I got to high school.”
He learned to play on both ends of the floor and not just offense or defense. He had to keep up with a defender and stop him on defense and to control the ball on the offense. Sullens knew he would not be the leading scorer so he focused on being a team player and focused his attention on the little things other players would not do. Sullens admits he was an average athlete at best in high school. When he was faced with teams from a larger area, his coaches made him believe to beat someone he had to out-work them.
The first time he realized this was his sophomore season versus Riverdale. The teams had seen and heard a lot about a long, lanky kid named Chris Spellman with a burr haircut. He had the quickest feet Sullens had seen and Spellman was in his head before the game even started. One thing he remembers most was when he thought to himself before the game, “Do not turn the ball over.”
Sullens does not spend a lot of time telling old war stories. He does tell players when you come up through the Warren County system be prepared for a culture shock at some point. There are guys out there who are better and you will realize exactly how good you are when it happens. It is then a player realizes they have to work harder to get to the next level. “Sooner or later everyone runs into those types of players.” Sullens admitted it was an eye-opening experience.
Coach Bobby Luna coached Sullens his senior year. “It was coach Luna who taught me the X’s and O’s of the game and former coaches Stan and Andy Jacobs taught me the importance of hard work.”
His first run at coaching was a 9-10-year-old AAU team with coach Luna. He recalled the team played in a tournament at Motlow and the first game was on the same afternoon of prom night. After the game a limo full of his friends arrived at Motlow and picked him up. He knew then an action was in place where he realized coaching was something he wanted to do.
In 1996, Sullens received a call from family friend and coach of the Eastside Bulldogs, Kevin Burnett. Eastside just added a 7-8 grade to its program and coach Burnett needed help. Sullens was known as coach Sullens from then on. Sullens stayed at Eastside three years and in the first full year the 7-8 Bulldogs won the county tournament. Two years later, coach Sullens was offered a job at WCMS.
He felt his job on the county level was to prepare younger players to play at the high school level. While at WCMS, he coached Matt Cotton, who was a three-year starter for the high school. Brooks Majors was the first player coach Sullens recalled that started on the Pioneer varsity team as a freshman. After a five-year stint at WCMS, coach Sullens stepped away from coaching to spend more time with family.
After a year away from the hardwood he was approached by Dewayne Wood and offered a job at Boyd Christian School where he stayed for 10 years and worked with the Broncos and started to get the program turned around.
Even though the Broncos were his team, coach Sullens admitted, “Deep down news about the Pioneers always piqued my interest.”
At the time an opening at WCHS became available, coach Sullens’ wife, Tabitha, was principal at Boyd Christian School. The two discussed the Pioneer coaching position and she knew there was no ill feelings at Boyd and the decision was made. After he applied the second time, coach Sullens received a phone call. He was offered the head coaching position for the Pioneer team he once played for. Coach Sullens said it took all of a half a second to respond, “Yes.”
He had been a Pioneer and deep down he always dreamed someday he would return as coach. The job he always wanted now belonged to him.
Coach Sullens said, “It was home and it was time to put Warren County back on the map. It is the premier basketball coaching job in Warren County.”
Now in his second season, his goal is set on a district title and he feels his team is ready. Ultimately coach Sullens wants to win a regional game and earn a game in the state tournament.
He admits his style is different and he looks at the quality of minutes, not quantity. Sullens does not want to depend on five players and add a sixth or seventh. He wants to be able to throw every player into the fire at any moment during a game and for them to be ready. Coach Sullens added he will fight for his team and cares about every single one of them. All of the guys are different with different personalities and in game situations they even play differently together.
Sullens also credits his dad, Troy Sullens, who instilled the importance of hard work in him since the beginning. His dad is responsible for the family business and to this day Sullens says you will not find his dad behind a desk on the phone.
“He is 62 years old and still works in the shop and does not ask anyone to do anything he won’t do for himself. The Sullens family business does not stop for Christmas and Thanksgiving because the cows still give milk. We run 24 hours, seven days a week.” explained coach Sullens of Sullens Transport, a major milk hauler.
Sullens also admitted, “Between the family business, coaching basketball, and spending time with my own family, it is a delicate balancing act and during basketball season the other two priorities in my life get short changed.”
He wanted to assure players and parents when he is not helping run the family business and coaching basketball he is just a regular guy who likes spending time at the lake. Coach Sullens is thankful for the opportunity he has been given at Warren County High School.