Head Coach Theo Dean paving the way for inclusion

February brings about a time of reflection and celebration during Black History Month, where America and other nations highlight the endeavors and experiences of those within the Black community.

Sports are no stranger to this national month, with professional leagues such as the NBA and MLB honoring the Black pioneers and current activists of their respective sports.

One such pioneer for the Truman State University community is women’s basketball Head Coach Theo Dean, the first Black head coach in school history. However, the journey of how Dean came into this position may not be as straightforward as expected.

“I didn’t even know I wanted to coach to be very honest,” Dean said. “I was a graphic design major here at Truman.”

Coach Dean’s first taste of collegiate basketball was when he was student manager for the women’s team.

Dean said becoming the student manager was for his work-study senior year.

“I ran the clock, traveled to a couple of the games. Then I started working with a lot of the players.”

Dean said after graduating, he earned a master’s degree in leadership with an emphasis in coaching. “I was lucky enough to get a graduate assistant position with Truman after,” Dean said.

After his graduate assistant stint with Truman, Dean explained how he came to land a job with current women’s basketball Assistant Coach Amy Briggs’ father.

Amy Briggs has coached alongside Dean since 2020, where she was hired on as the full-time assistant coach.

“I’d known Theo since my time as a player,” Briggs said. “He was a student assistant that became a graduate assistant while I was at Truman.”

Briggs and Dean continued to keep in touch after leaving Truman according to Briggs, and the two would join forces years later.

Dean eventually did find his way back to Truman, and after a brief time as interim head coach, Dean was named the full-time head coach Jan. 13, 2020.

“It was a 12-year journey of getting to where I’m at currently,” Dean said. “I did not think that someone who had not played college basketball could become a college head coach.”

Becoming the first Black head coach in school history was already breaking down barriers for Truman. 

However, Dean said he recognized the racial issues that he and current Truman students still face.

“I’ve sat down with department chairs and told them things that I saw and experienced as a student,” Dean said. “As a student, there was the feeling of being treated differently in the classroom and held to higher academic standards than other people in the classroom.”

Dean also described how when he was in public with his wife Presley Dean, the interracial couple would receive stares and looks from those around them. 

According to Dean, a close source told him at the time of his full-time head coaching promotion that the Truman and Kirksville community may not have been ready for its first Black head coach. 

“This was non-malicious advice that I received from someone close to me,” Dean said. 

“I was raised to understand my environment but not to be my environment,” Dean said in regards to overcoming adversity. 

Dean expressed how he is striving to bring about change in the community and the Truman campus with his position.

The head coach also explained how his experience has trickled over to his recruiting endeavors.

“If I use my experience and stories in recruiting players, those players might interact with the first Black leader they’ve had in their life, someone that they see every single day.”

Coach Briggs described Dean as a positive and uplifting leader who wants to serve others. 

Briggs also spoke about Dean as a role model for the people he leads.

“I think he embodies hard work and chasing your goals,” Briggs said. “He inspires others to do what they want to in life.” 

Coach Dean credits his parents as being huge influences in his life and he wishes to continue making them proud.

Other inspirations for Dean include NBA coaching legends such as Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, who Dean says are some of the best to ever do it.

“I borrow a lot of plays from other coaches,” Dean said. “Some of the plays that I still run come from [former] coach [Amy] Eagan.”

Dean is currently in his third season as head coach of the Truman women’s basketball team. 

The program has seen significant changes since Dean took over, and the community, in general, has experienced change for the better with the acquisition of the first Black head coach in Truman history.