There has likely never been a boys’ high school basketball coach in the history of the Northern Region who combined outgoing personality, a passion for the sport, and the ability to build strong teams like the great Paul “Red” Jenkins.
The former legendary Woodson High head coach, whose positive, upbeat nature and forthright, tell-it-like it is style, has always overflowed with youth-like enthusiasm when it comes to talking about anything he has a passion for, such as politics, family or the current day student-athlete.
His enthusiasm for basketball, through his time coaching the Cavaliers, working and running summertime hoops camps at Woodson, or talking about the collegiate or pro game, is and always has been contagious. Much in the same way former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell was the face of college hoops for so many years around the metropolitan area, Jenkins was the face of prep hoops across the Northern Region.
One of Jenkins’ watershed moments while at the helm of Woodson was the night in December 1993 when he won his 500th career game as the Cavaliers’ coach. But there was some controversy surrounding the milestone achievement.
In Jenkins’ mind, his team’s 98-80 early season win over Jefferson marked his 500th career win. But in the eyes of the Virginia High School League (VHSL), the governing body of high school sports in the state, the popular coach still was seven victories or so short of the magical number.
Marshall Johnson, a record keeper for the VHSL at the time, said seven of the victories Jenkins was counting had come in high school all-star game affairs and that, officially, those “wins” did not count in the record books.
“If Red wants to count then, fine, but from an official standpoint, our inclination is not to count them,” said Johnson, in a Dec. 16, 1993 Connection Newspaper article commending Jenkins’ 500th win.
Jenkins, in the same article, went on record as saying that, in his view, he had reached the 500 win mark.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s 500 for me,” said Jenkins, who at the time was in his 31st year as the Woodson head coach. “I count the all-star games because they’re National High School Federation-sanctioned games.”
For Red, any victory was worth savoring. And who could blame him?
“And I wouldn’t trade one of those all-star wins for a win around here unless it was a district championship,” Jenkins went on to say in the story. “Those all-star games are big stuff.”
Jenkins, prior to his team’s game with Jefferson, had not informed his players he was on the verge of the big 500. But following the victory, then-Woodson assistant coach Gary Reedy informed the players what their coach had accomplished.
“No one would believe this, but I didn’t even mention it to the players,” said Jenkins, whose team was led by John Owendoff’s 25 points and 11 rebounds that night. “They didn’t even know until after the game when coach Reedy told them. [Getting No. 500] was not an insignificant thing but it wasn’t something I worried about. I wanted to achieve that and it’s nice, but I’m more concerned with improving our team.”
JENKINS WOULD REMAIN as Woodson’s head coach for a few more years before becoming head coach at Paul VI School in Fairfax. There, he ultimately recorded his 600th career win one night in January 2001 when the Panthers defeated Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rival McNamara.
These days, the Woodson High gymnasium is named after Jenkins, now retired from active coaching. An annual early season girls’ tournament — the Red Jenkins Tipoff Classic — is hosted annually by Woodson.
Jenkins finished his high school coaching career with 609 wins to 320 defeats. His win total is the third most in Virginia high school history, behind Benedictine’s Warren Rutledge (949-346) and Bill Lawson (626-145). Jenkins, a 1948 graduate of Mount Vernon High School, won 538 games at Woodson from 1962-97, and 71 at Paul VI from 1997 to 2001.
Critics like to harp on the fact Jenkins never won a region title at Woodson and that the Cavaliers qualified for the state tournament just once, in 1966, when all the district teams qualified. But from the time Woodson opened in 1961, Jenkins, then 25, began building a program which would win 500-plus games, capture 19 district titles (regular season, district tournament, or both) and lead the Cavs to top 20 rankings in the metro area in 25 different years.
Winning region or state championships were never Jenkins' top priority.
"I never thought about the wins and losses," said Jenkins, who once turned down an assistant coaching job on Driesell's staff at Maryland in order to remain a high school coach. "I wanted to win as many as I could but [carried the mindset to] let the championships take care of themselves. I wanted to develop players who had a desire to play college basketball."
His list of local star players is legendary — the great guard Tommy Amaker, who led the Cavaliers to four district titles; pure shooting Pete Holbert, who played at Maryland following a high school career which saw him evolve into one of the best-ever outside shooters in region history; guard Greg Williams, a tremendous ball-handler and scorer who played at Florida; center Walter Hawkins, who led the 1966 co-region champion Cavaliers and whom Jenkins calls one of the best athletes in region history; 1989 graduate Bryan Hill, who went on to star at Georgia Tech; and former American University coach Chris Knoche, who played for Red in the mid-1970s.