By Reginald Stuart
As a kid growing up in a low-income neighborhood in South Nashville, Ben Jobe had no idea what his future held. Nor did his parents or the students he went to school with or the teachers who inherited the soft spoken youngster.
Before most people could realize it, Jobe showed teachers he was an intellectually smart kid who also had impressive talents when he had command of a basketball. In his adolescent years he emerged as one of the top high school students and basketball players of his generation.
In the 1950’s, Jobe helped Pearl High School sustain its reign as one of the best in the region during his high school years. While earning his college degree at Fisk University, he emerge as a meaningful player in its peer collegiate basketball matches and distinguished himself among college basketball players.
Once out of college and working, Jobe got his start as a high basketball coach of the new Cameron High School basketball team. That winning streak set the stage for a winning career.
By the time Jobe retired from coaching in 2003, he had coached college teams at nearly half a dozen institutions around the country winning more than 500 games in more than five decades of coaching.
The South Nashville kid who became a basketball coaching icon, died last Friday night in Montgomery, Alabama, the city to which he moved after retiring in 2003. He was 84.
For a youngster who says he got started in basketball at age eight and began to emerge as a standout as a five foot, eight inch point guard at Pearl High, Jobe left impressive fingerprints on college basketball history.
He coached teams at Tuskegee University, Talladega College, Alabama State University, South Carolina State University, the University of Denver and Alabama A & M University. In his 12 years as head coach of Louisiana’s Southern University Jaguars, his teams compiled a 209-194 record, reaching the NCAA finals four times, according to wire services. Among one of his teams’ unlikely victims in the NCAA finals was Georgia Tech.
Among students who credit Jobe with their success is current University of Alabama head coach Avery Johnson. He played under Jobe’s coaching while a student at Southern.
“Ben was jut a real scholarly person,” says higher education consultant Dr. Jeffre Whisenton, who, as Southern’s president in 1985, recruited Jobe to come to Southern as head coach. “He made sure all the young me were well rounded,” says Whisenton, saying Jobe brought those standards with him from his Fisk and Pearly High days.
Long before the NCAA and NAIA became more rigid about scholarship achievement among athletes, Whisenton says, Kobe drew upon his Fisk training to checked grades and made sure students did their studies and graduated. That’s why some many Jobe graduates got jobs and still stay in contact today, he added.
Dr. Richard Turner, president Emeritus of Baltimore City Community College, recalled Jobe as a Fisk classmate and basketball player.
“He was a fantastic player,” Turner says of Jobe, referring to the eye catching, award winning playing Kobe did on the basketball courts while at Fisk. “He could handle the ball like nobody I knew,” says Turner. “He has a sharp player.”
Melvin Black, who learned of Kobe during his (Black’s) years as a student and later assistant basketball coach at Pearl, working with the late Cornelius Ridley, likened Jobe to the late Muhammad Ali in a basketball context. Black said Jobe, like Ali, who could “move like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Ben was always the gentleman who had a positive attitude on life,” Black said.
“Ben was a small man, a great guard and play maker,” said Raymond P. `Red’ Sanders, who was a Pearl basketball teammate with Jobe,. “He loved basketball. That was the highlight of his life,” Sanders said of Jobe.
The education both received from the Pearl teachers gave him and Jobe “a standard of living equal to none,” Sanders said, as he and others spoke of Jobe’s demand students did well in school, despite what odds they felt they faced.
Helen Hill, a Jobe classmate at Pearl, echoed Sanders’ observation. She cited “Staying Ahead of the Possee,” a personal history by Jobe as told to writer Joe Michella. Jobe said once dropped out of high school, only to soon return after a talk with coach Swayze Hall, one of his Cameron Junior High coaches. Hall talked to Jobe about the values of a formal education amd his chances as a player. The year after he returned to Pearl, Jobe was an all state player and captain of Pearl’s 1951 team.
“He was quiet, very quiet,” despite his presence on a basketball court, said Hill. “He was nice.”
Jobe’s passing comes just as ESPN Sports Network is set to televise a four-hour documentary about coaches at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), in which Jobe is one of the featured coaches. The Huntsville (Alabama) Times, meanwhile, was separately finishing work on a three-part series about Jobe for its readers.
“Anyone who has 500 career wins and guided teams over several decades to victories should be looked at successful,” says sports writer Edward G. Robinson III, former Raleigh News & Observer sports reporter and now lecturer at Morgan State University.
“He’s taken four teams to the NCAA, says Robinson. “Some coaches work their entire career and never get there once,” noted Robison, co-author of “The Worst Of Times Are The Best Of Times,’ a book written with LeVelle Moton, head basketball coach at North Carolina Central University.
The ESPN documentary is set to run the evenings of March 16-17.
Kobe is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Regina, and daughter, Bene. A memorial was to be held for Jobe Saturday in Montgomery.