Wednesday, March 09, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Long road back for CHS coach

Leader sports editor

When Cabot coach Jerry Bridges took over the CHS program, it was an unlikely union. Bridges had been highly successful as a young coach, winning two state championships at two different schools, but had walked away from the court of play to become an administrator. Cabot had not been in the state tournament for 31 years. Bridges had not coached for three, but it worked.

Bridges coached in the 2001 state final at Fort Smith Southside before leaving coaching.

“It’s tough at Southside and it just wore on me,” said Bridges. “I needed a break. I needed a change and I thought, let’s look at this. I was at an age I thought, give it three years and if you don’t like, if it’s not for you, I could still get a good job out there.”

Cabot was not a strong program, but it offered a sort of familiarity that Bridges found attractive.

“I don’t know if this was a good job right then,” Bridges said. “But it’s central Arkansas, closer to home. It paid well, and I thought it was a similar job to Caddo Hills, but just on a bigger level. It was appealing to me at the time that they were talking about building a facility. I just thought at that time in my life, that’s what I wanted to do.”

Then Cabot athletic director Johnny White had a very short list of candidates he wanted to pursue, and knew Bridges needed to be coaching.

“I knew when Jerry was AD at Mountain Home, that wasn’t where he was supposed to be,” said White. “We had talked some over the years, and he had said some things that told me, he needed to coach basketball.”

White’s intuition was right.

“I quickly found out (at Mountain Home), man, you were born to coach and be in the gym. It was like riding a bike. I just got back on it and started going,” Bridges said.

Coaching has changed in many ways since Bridges entered the profession more than 25 years ago. He built a reputation in his first career of being one of the more fiery coaches out there. While he still preaches, teaches and demonstrates intensity, he has calmed somewhat. But the job itself hasn’t gotten any easier for him.

“It’s not easier,” Bridges said. “Coaching now is not easier than it was when I first started. This run helps make it better. A lot of the pressure I bring on myself.

“This is where I’m at. The losing hurts more than the winning makes you feel good. But when you make a special run like this one here, it does make it all worth it. Alright. This is a young man’s profession. I do believe that. I don’t know how many more years I have in me. It’s a challenge I have to face. I hope they’ll have me around again next year anyway. I’m not ready to quit yet. But I know I’m at the end-ward part of my journey.”

Out on the practice floor, Bridges returns to the line of thought.

“This is why I do it,” Bridges said. “This is it. They drive me crazy, but they keep me young. Every one of them will tell you I’ve chewed on them at one time or another, but I love these guys. You build these relationships. You have an impact. It makes you feel good when they come back and see you.”

There’s also one other source of steadiness, perspective and power in the head Panther’s life. And it’s evident when she enters his office, especially right after a loss – his 3-year-old granddaughter Hanlee.

“She’s good for me,” Bridges said. “Hanlee’s my medicine. You’ll get me emotional but she’s been good for me. I think if you talked to a lot of other people they’ll tell you, too. She’s helped me in a very positive way. You never realize how a little thing can have so much power. That makes us tic right now, that little girl.”