RIP: Bert Jenkins, great gentleman, coach and teacher
They resurfaced and painted the floor of Bert Jenkins Gymnasium in Gulfport this past summer, adding Jenkins’ signature to the surface.
Nothing could be more appropriate.
Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Bert Jenkins, who died at age 90 late Wednesday, put his signature on Gulfport and Mississippi basketball. He was a marvelous gentleman, a truly great coach.
“I’ve said many times that he might be the best basketball coach who ever coached basketball in this state,” said Richard Williams, the Hall of Famer who took Mississippi State to the Final Four. “I used to go to coaching clinics just to hear Bert Jenkins. He was the master. And his willingness to share his knowledge and expertise is not something you often see with coaches, who, as you know, can be selfish. He was always willing to share. He had such an impact on the game in this state.”
Jenkins’ Gulfport teams won 866 games and lost only 180, a winning percentage of 82.8 percent. His teams enjoyed three 40-win seasons, 18 30-win seasons, and 25 20-win seasons.
Said Williams, “I was lucky to coach against him three times. The closest we came was 16 points.”
Jenkins, as Williams, paid his dues before becoming a basketball legend. He was eight years a junior high coach before being promoted to the head coach at Gulfport High by Hall of Famer Lindy Callahan. Jenkins also assisted Callahan in coaching Gulfport football for five years.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that Bert was a great football coach as well,” Callahan said. “We didn’t have but three coaches back then so he coached three positions and I think we lost four games in those five seasons. He was so unique at teaching techniques in drills. He was a great, great teacher.”
Jenkins’ attention to detail was the stuff of legend. He kept detailed charts of games that included statistics that don’t show up on any other stat sheets. He showed it to me one time. The first stat on the chart: number of charges taken. Per minute, of course.
It’s one thing to pay attention to detail, another entirely to get your players to do it. Jenkins’ players did or he found them a seat on the bench. And still another thing to your players to play extremely hard all the time. Jenkins did that and he did it, mostly, with a soft, gentlemanly manner.
What’s more, Jenkins changed with the times.
“I saw his teams when they were all white, played slow, always worked for good shots and nearly always won,” Williams said. “I saw them later, after integration, when they played really fast, ran the floor and won big that way. He was willing to change with the times.”
Bert Jenkins was a war hero. He had a leg amputated at a German prisoner-of-war camp after being wounded and captured while fighting for Gen. George Patton’s army at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. He walked the remainder of his life with a decided limp. It was a familiar limp, respected if somewhat feared, by Mississippi basketball fans. When Bert Jenkins limped into the gym, the outcome was rarely in doubt.