Saturday, September 02, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Bill Reed’s legacy will last

Leader sports editor

There’s a reason the words legend and legacy are from the same root, and if you’re from Jacksonville and knew Bill Reed, you know the reason. Reed, a native of Lonoke, only lived in Jacksonville for 10 years, and hasn’t been here since 1982. He is a legend in Jacksonville because of the three football state championships he won, but his legacy in the town looms much larger than mere sports.

Bill Reed died Tuesday in Texarkana, another place he’s a coaching legend, at the age of 79. His career accolades are too long to list, but among them are the state championships at Jacksonville and five more conference championships at Texarkana before he retired in 1989. He has been inducted in the Jacksonville High School Hall of Fame, the Arkansas High School Coaches’ Association Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. (He was profiled in The Leader in February, 2004).

Less known about Reed is that he is also a multi-state championship coach in girls’ basketball. As the youngest head coach in the state at 21 years old, Reed won the first of back-to-back state titles at Marked Tree in ’59-’60 and ’60-’61.

His keen eye for talent led him to pluck two future NFLers and Super Bowl winners out of the hallways at JHS and Arkansas High – Dan Hampton and Rod Smith. He has influenced several coaches throughout Arkansas, including the wildly successful Mike Malham at Cabot, and his own son, Scott Reed. Malham was an assistant for Reed at Jacksonville, and has won two state championships with the Panthers. Scott Reed played for his dad at Jacksonville before signing with the Razorbacks. He won four state championships as coach at El Dorado.

Over the years, those he influenced have spoken glowingly about him, and talked about what they took from his mentorship.

“The main thing I learned from him was the importance of off-season,” Malham told The Leader when Reed was inducted into the AHSCA Hall. “He said you build a program there, and we still run our off-season very similarly to the way he did back then.”

Former Red Devil coach Johnny Watson, who won numerous conference championships after taking over for Reed in 1983, liked his hands- off approach towards his staff.

“He let the coaches coach,” Watson said. “He’d tell the assistants what he wanted the kids to learn, but then he let you go out there and teach it to them your way. He let you make the decisions on who to play and how things were done. He was the head coach of a program and he’d oversee it. And that’s what I tried to do.”

Reed’s career started in 1959 as a 21-year-old girls high school basketball coach at Marked Tree.

Reed moved on to take an assistant coach’s position at Wilson High School and head junior high coach. Wilson enjoyed his first undefeated season in ’62 with his junior high team.

He moved on to Jonesboro High School as an assistant football and head track coach in 1966. Jonesboro’s football team won three conference championships during Reed’s tenure and played in three state championship games.

In 1972, Reed finally got his first high school head football coaching position at Jacksonville. In his first two years the team went 2-9. In ’74, Reed enjoyed his first winning season and two years later, won the first of three state titles.

Even with all that success, it was his contributions of no recorded notoriety that may have had the biggest impact on the city of Jacksonville. Reed’s arrival at JHS coincided with the early stages of integration. It was a rocky start, but Reed’s influence was a huge factor in smoothing the transition.

“He influenced so many people,” said Martha Whatley, a fellow teacher at JHS at the time. “When the blacks and whites combined, he made them all Jacksonville Red Devils. He was so good at treating everybody the same, and he taught everyone to take pride in what they were doing. It was largely through his efforts and his teamwork concept and the example that his team showed in that school, that we were able to make it a much more smooth transition during integration. His discipline and his way of treating everyone the same was commendable. He was a tremendous asset not only to the school itself, but the whole town. You couldn’t get a seat at that stadium on Friday nights, and the town was empty when they were away. All those kids learned you don’t fail until you quit trying.”

His funeral will be held at the graveside at Lonoke Cemetery at 4 p.m. today.