Coach Chris Jennings Joins the 500 Victory Club
Chris Jennings, head coach of basketball at Jesuit High School, has achieved a significant milestone. Jennings, a Jesuit alumnus of the Class of 1978, begins his 25th season at the Birdcage as the newest inductee of a small but distinctive group of prep basketball coaches in Louisiana who have notched 500 or more victories.
Most prep coaches can only dream about such an accomplishment.
When Jesuit defeated John Ehret Thursday, Dec. 10, in the Newman Invitational Tournament, the victory represented number 500 for Jennings, who became the Blue Jays’ head coach back in the 1992-93 season. Since then, Jennings has coached varsity Blue Jays in nearly 750 games. His teams win 67% of the time.
What’s more impressive is that in the 24 seasons Jennings has guided Jesuit’s basketball program, the Jays had winning records in all of them save two years. In the 2010-11 season, Jesuit’s overall record was 11-19. In the 2011-12 season, the Jays went 16-16.
His 2000-01 squad compiled a 30-7 record enroute to Jesuit’s eighth state basketball championship (Class 5-A), the first since Jesuit’s trifecta teams staked titles in 1964, 1965, and 1966. Jesuit won state championships in basketball in 1939, 1944, 1946, and 1948. The year his team won state, Jennings was named the Nokia Sugar Bowl Louisiana Prep Coach of the Year. Additionally, Jennings’s teams have captured six District Championships in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2015.
Some 23 Blue Jay cagers coached by Jennings graduated and moved up to play basketball at collegiate levels, including:
- Scott Thompson ’92 (Loyola University New Orleans), who is a social studies teacher at Jesuit and the coach of the school’s freshmen team.
- Michael White ’95 (Ole Miss), who was recently named head coach of the University of Florida’s basketball program.
- Chad Barnes ’01 (Loyola, UNO), who in recent years has played on the European professional circuit.
Jennings himself was a star player on the Jesuit teams in 1975-76, 1976-77, and 1977-78. He was a captain in his senior year and the team’s leading scorer. Jennings holds the school record for most career points scored: 2,011, His accomplishments on the court inside the Birdcage were recognized by recruiters for Nicholls State University which offered him an athletic scholarship. Jennings studied business administration and earned his bachelor’s degree while starting for the Colonels three consecutive years. Jennings owns the Nicholls records for free throws made in one half (12) and single season free-throw percentage (90%). Five years ago, Nicholls honored Jennings by inducting him into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame. View the Photo Gallery in the Website’s Archives
The LHSAA does not maintain records that might show the statistics of prep coaches, whether basketball, football, or baseball. There are at least two prep basketball coaches in Louisiana who compiled more than 1,000 wins. But their teams played some 60-odd games each season. Jesuit teams, on the other hand, average about 34 games each season, give or take a few.
According to Ron Brocato, the dean of prep sports writers in New Orleans and the author of The Golden Game: When Prep Football was King in New Orleans (Arthur Hardy Enterprises), two basketball coaches in recent history achieved 500-plus wins. One is Jim Robarts, whose prep coaching career took him to at least three schools (Rummel, East Jefferson, and Shaw). Robarts retired just a few years ago. The other coach with more than 500 wins, and actually closer to 600, was De La Salle’s Johnny Altobello, who is deceased.
Brocato, who also pens a prep sports column for the Clarion-Herald, says the 500 wins by Jennings catapults him into an elite tier of coaching. “He is a master, the dean of basketball coaches in the New Orleans region,” said Brocato. “His knowledge of the game and his ability to work his defense are superior. That’s why some coaches aren’t wild about playing Jesuit. They know that Jennings knows what he’s doing. But they respect him because of that.
“Jennings is particularly good with molding young coaches just starting their careers and developing their skills so that they can spread the wealth,” he added. “A perfect example of that is Wesley Laurendine, who was Chris’s assistant at Jesuit for the past five years. Laurendine is now head coach of Shaw’s basketball program. ”
Following his 500th victory, Coach Jennings had a few spare moments to furnish responses to 20 nosy questions.
- What do “500 wins” mean to you? It means I’ve been around a long time.
- Is there a secret to being a successful prep basketball coach? Yes, but it’s a secret.
- When you were a kid, did Pete Maravich impress you? I had baggy socks just like Maravich and I tried to emulate his jump shot. That earned me the nickname “Jump Shot Jennings.” People still call me that all the time.
- Who do you credit with teaching you how to play basketball? My biddy ball coach at Metairie Playground, Mike Quigley.
- Who do you credit with teaching you how to coach basketball? Kevin Trower, Duane Reboul, Johnny Ponds, and Dale Chimento.
- Do you have any rituals before, during, or after a game? I never drink soft drinks. Never, except during a game. I drink one can of Coke in each half.
- What is your state of mind during basketball season? Laser focused.
- What is your state of mind outside of basketball season? I really enjoy fishing.
- What is your greatest achievement? The capability of being reproductive at the age of 50 and having a beautiful six-year-old son to prove it.
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Nothing, my wife insists I’m perfect.
- Do you attend any of the N.O. Pelicans games? Only when someone gives me tickets.
- If you could change the outcome of one game in the past 24 years, which one would it be? Losing by two points (60-58) to Scotlandville in the 2009-10 semifinals.
- Which team in the Catholic League do you love to beat? All of them.
- Which team in the Catholic League do you hate losing to? All of them.
- Do you tend to overuse a word or phrase when talking to the players during timeouts? I’ll look at a player and say, “What are you doing?” Beyond that, what’s said in the huddle stays in huddle.
- What traits do you most admire in a potential player trying out for the team? Playing hard.
- If you could change one rule governing prep basketball, what would it be? The power point system. It makes games in November just as important as games played in February.
- Can you still slam-dunk? Of course. I have the touch.
- Of the hundreds of Blue Jays you’ve coached in the past 24 years, who would you draft to play on your All-Star Jennings Team? Mike White, Brandon Spann, Philip Remelli, Chad Barnes, Mike Varnado, Kevin Murphy, Jeremy Reuther, Ryan Martin, Brady Hadden, and Dominick Scelfo.
- What would you like for Christmas? 510 wins!
SportsNola.com: Jesuit basketball coach Chris Jennings captures 500th win
SportsNola.com: Jesuit’s Jennings Seeks 500th Win