ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich.
— Sign this. And quick.
It was 3 a.m., and Klint Pleasant’s wife, Rachel, was drifting in and out of consciousness — a golf-ball-sized tumor in her brain about to explode.
“Sign this,” the doctor said again. “We’ve got to go right now. We’re going to crack open her skull and try to save her.”
Klint scribbled his name on a form authorizing emergency surgery and tried — in 10 seconds — to explain just how much his wife meant to him.
“Please do your best work,” he begged.
Then he leaned over, kissed Rachel and told her goodbye.
“I love you,” he said.
As they wheeled her away, Klint slumped down in the hallway, unsure if he would see his wife again.
WINS, LOSSES AND REAL LIFE
Seven years later, Klint Pleasant, 37, deals with a different kind of pressure.
This basketball season, he succeeded his father, Garth Pleasant, as head coach at Rochester College, the 1,100-student school north of Detroit once known as Michigan Christian College.
In 38 seasons, Klint’s dad compiled an impressive resume: 720 career wins, four small-college national championships and a long list of former players who credit him with helping develop their faith.
“I would be lying if I said I don’t feel any pressure,” said Klint, whose team has a 19-7 record.
Then again, he knows what real pressure feels like.
Even now, that terrible night at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit puts basketball in perspective.
“When you’ve kissed your wife goodbye after being told by a doctor that she wouldn’t survive surgery, losing a game isn’t so hard,” he said. “I remind myself of that often.”
COACHING ROOTS RUN DEEP
The Rochester Warriors practice in a small gymnasium at the back end of campus.
Championship banners hang on the walls, but there’s no room for bleachers. The team plays “home” games at nearby Rochester High School — a fact that always astonishes outsiders.
“Coaches are blown away,” Klint Pleasant said. “They come in here and say, ‘I thought your dad had 700 and some-odd wins.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, but all on the road.’”
On the bright side, a shiny new floor was installed a few years ago, replacing decades-old plywood that was splintering.
For Klint, this old gym holds a lifetime of memories. He spent a huge portion of his childhood here.
“Dad started taking me to games when I was 3, and I always sat right next to him on the bench,” Klint said. “Some kids grow up wanting to play in the NBA. I grew up wanting to coach.”
Garth Pleasant came to Michigan Christian, then a junior college, as a student-athlete in the late 1960s.
He starred on the basketball court and grew spiritually. As a sophomore, he met his future wife, Pat, daughter of Lucien Palmer, Rochester’s second president. He finished his studies at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.
When Rochester’s top coaching job came open in 1972, he jumped at the opportunity.
His dream job, he called it — one that turned into a family affair.
“I took my kids everywhere with me,” said Garth, 62, who took one season off. “My wife kept the scorebook. For probably 20-something years, I didn’t have an assistant coach. I was the trainer and bus driver. My wife did the laundry. But I thought I was the luckiest guy around.”
Daughter Kim, a future Rochester cheerleader, arrived first. Klint followed.
Then came Johnny, who got the final rebound in Garth’s 500th win in 2001 and handed the ball to his dad. Johnny now serves as head basketball coach at Rochester High.
For all his on-court success, Garth said he never judged his players on wins and losses but on their character.
“It would be hard for me to overestimate how important Garth Pleasant was in my life,” said Josh Graves, a former starting guard who graduated from Rochester in 2002.
“Besides my own father, no single man showed me what it looked like to take faith seriously, pursue a calling and enjoy every single minute of each day,” added Graves, now the preaching and teaching minister for the Otter Creek Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn.
PROMISING CAREER, PRETTY GIRL
Like his dad, Klint Pleasant always wanted to coach basketball.
But he loved playing football.
So when Abilene Christian University recruited him for the gridiron, he headed to Texas in 1994.
After two seasons at ACU, he transferred to Lipscomb to serve as a student assistant to Don Meyer, the legendary college basketball coach who retired with a record 923 career wins.
One time, with Lipscomb winning a game by about 40 points, Klint’s eyes drifted into the stands and focused on a student seated at half-court.
“I thought, ‘My goodness, that’s the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen,’” he recalled. Klint ran into her that night at the student recreation center and struck up a conversation.
Her name was Rachel.
At age 27, Klint served as an assistant coach on a Kent State team that made an Elite Eight run, knocking off Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament.
That same year — 2002 — he accepted the head basketball coach’s position at ACU.
“ACU is where my relationship with God became the most important thing to me,” he said then. “I feel the same way about ACU as my father feels about Rochester College.”
But during Klint’s third season at ACU — on New Year’s Day 2005 — Rachel gave birth to a daughter named Abigail.
Suddenly, Abilene seemed a long way from home, both for Klint and Rachel. She grew up in St. Louis, where her parents, Brad and Sue Stevens, attend the McKnight Road Church of Christ. Her father serves as a church elder.
When Rochester offered Klint a fund-raising and development position, he brushed aside the idea — at first.
He wanted to coach and entertained offers in the Midwest.
But the more he thought about it, the more appealing the Rochester opportunity became.
“It was a chance to get back to a place where I grew up and a school that meant a lot to me,” he said. “I thought that maybe getting out of coaching for a few years might be healthy.”
BRAIN TRAUMA AND BLESSINGS
Just a few months after the couple and their infant daughter left Texas, Rachel called Klint at work and told him she was experiencing a horrible headache.
As it turned out, she had a hole in her heart. An infection in her bloodstream had slipped through the hole and up to her brain, causing a fast-growing tumor first diagnosed as cancer.
As Klint’s parents, friends and fellow Christians rushed to the hospital to pray with him, a brain surgeon opened Rachel’s skull and relieved the pressure.
The outlook remained grim.
“I don’t know if she’ll wake up,” the neurosurgeon told Klint after finishing the surgery. “If she does, I have no idea how much brain trauma she’s going to have.”
But later that day, Rachel — “wrapped up like a mummy” with tubes coming out of her head — turned and moaned.
“Hey, Rachel, I love you!” Klint told her.
“I love you, too,” she whispered.
Thus began an ongoing journey of follow-up surgeries, rehabilitation and therapy.
Rachel lost partial vision in both eyes and found it difficult to walk down a supermarket aisle without running into shelves. She faced short-term memory loss and still can’t collect her thoughts as easily — or as quickly — as she once could.
But she points out that her challenges beat the alternative.
“I feel blessed to be alive,” she said.
Another blessing: Rachel gave birth two years ago to Julia, the couple’s second daughter.
“I’m grateful for the little moments: waking up together, eating family meals together, laughing together and worshiping or praying together,” said Rachel, 34. “We have a greater appreciation of good times and good health.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
During the arduous journey, Klint remained focused on his responsibilities at the college.
Rochester President Rubel Shelly appointed Klint to serve as vice president of enrollment and lead recruiting efforts.
At the same time, Klint joined his father’s staff as an assistant coach and followed his dad in the pulpit when Garth stepped down after 30 years of preaching for the Lake Orion Church of Christ.
Klint shares the Lake Orion preaching duties with Mark Love, who directs Rochester’s Bible graduate program in missional leadership.
“He’s a basketball coach who would love to be a preacher, and I’m a preacher who would love to be a basketball coach,” Love joked.
When Garth decided to step aside from coaching, Shelly did not look far to find a replacement.
Having grown up in the program, Klint was the obvious choice, said Adam Hacias, a Rochester player from 2003 to 2007.
Klint understands that the foundational mission goes beyond basketball, said Hacias, a Rochester Church of Christ member.
“Don’t just develop boys into fine basketball players,” Hacias said. “Develop men into fine husbands, fathers and human beings.”
Asked about his son’s selection, Garth said he “couldn’t have written the script any better.”
Even Klint’s worst nightmare had a happy ending.
“Klint’s faith continues to grow,” Rachel said in an e-mail. “I think his career as a college basketball coach encourages him to use his God-given gifts to serve others. Klint’s work and ministry are filled with a deep passion to love as Christ loved us.”