116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It's hard to capture such a big, beautiful life in just a few words, especially because he had such a gift with delivering them. His locker room speeches could change the course of a game; his speeches ... even (at) just a family dinner would inspire and stick with anyone who was in attendance.
Those aren’t my words. I wish they were.
But they capture Bob “Red” Jennings well.
Jennings died Oct. 18 at the age of 94. His funeral will be Saturday at All Saints Catholic Church. A visitation is set for Friday at Cedar Memorial Funeral Home.
Many newspaper readers will remember “Red.” He was one of the best basketball coaches Cedar Rapids, Eastern Iowa and Iowa have ever seen. He was an “old school” coach, but, of course, all coaches in the 1950s and ’60s were “old school.”
Like many coaches of his era, Jennings was tough, but fair. He treated players with respect — when they deserved it — and was tough on them, star or sub, when needed.
Jennings started coaching right out of high school, at his alma mater, Immaculate Conception.
“Great memories,” Jennings said in that 2017 interview. He was talking from a hospital room, just before his 90th birthday.
“When you get to be 90, they want to watch you pretty close,” he said with a laugh.
It took some prodding to get him to talk about his coaching career. Bob would rather talk about his former players, his friends and colleagues. Every time I ran into Bob he talked about my late father, Jack Ogden, and often told me my late father-in-law, Jack Byrne, was one his “all-time favorite” players.
As successful as Bob was, it wasn’t just about the wins and losses. He told me he loved to win because “we wanted to be winners because in life you set your goals high.”
After graduating the University of Iowa, he took the boys’ basketball coaching position at Regis High School, in 1959. In his 18-year coaching career, Jennings won 330 games, an average of 18 wins a season. His teams lost just 77 games, just over four per season.
In 1962, Regis became the first Cedar Rapids team to win a state title. His ’63 team placed third.
The man could coach.
From his obit: Bob treated each player as an individual and he wanted them to win not just on the court, but in life, too. He remained close friends with many of his former players and was still meeting with them to eat and reminisce as recently as this summer.
In that 2017 chat, Bob mentioned a story that kind of summed up his coaching style.
Jennings’ rules to be part of his Regis teams included no smoking or drinking. In his third season, “there was a certain place (in Cedar Rapids) I wouldn’t let them go,” he said.
But after a loss, two of his starters decided to test that rule. He kicked them off the team.
“It’s nice to be popular, but you’ve got to set rules,” he said at the time. “My God it paid off, but it was tough at the time. From then on, I never had a problem.”
He retired from coaching in 1966, moving into administration at Prairie High School, where he served as athletics director and assistant principal until his retirement.
“It was a great time in my life,” he said of his years at Prairie.
Bob’s passion was not just coaching, it also was teaching.
“I enjoyed that the most,” he said in 2017. “I enjoyed being around kids that age.”
But he was more than that. We often write and talk about how important sports are in molding young people to thrive in life once the stadium or gym lights dim. That’s how “Red” lived his life, taking care of his athletes, his students, his parents, friends and, finally, his wife of 66 years, Pat, who died in 2015.
His selfless devotion to his family will be one of his most enduring legacies, his obit noted.
That’s quite a legacy.
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