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Legendary prep football coach Gentry dies

Bill Gentry’s distinct Texas drawl and Fedora hat were unmistakable personal trademarks during a spectacular 38-year Hall of Fame career at Highland and Eldorado.

He was prolific at winning football games, too.

Gentry, a towering figure in New Mexico high school football and one of the most iconic prep coaches the state has ever known in any sport, died during the night Saturday. He was 93.

It was not immediately known if he passed Saturday night or Sunday morning, but Gentry, a giant in his profession, had been in declining health over the last few days.

“I think you could legitimately say he was the father of high school football in the state,” said a former adversary, longtime (and now-retired) Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus. “There was a reason he had the longevity that he did, because he did it right.”

Gentry led Highland to three state championships — 1963, 1965 and 1986. The first two were undefeated teams, the third a memorable victory over Jim Bradley’s Roswell Coyotes at the Wool Bowl. Gentry coached five other teams at Highland and Eldorado into the state final during his career.

“He left nothing to chance,” said David Williams, a former coaching rival who succeeded Gentry at Eldorado in 1996. Gentry, Williams added, was instrumental in getting Williams his first head coaching position, at Del Norte. “There was a purpose in everything he did.”

Clench-jawed, demanding and exacting, Gentry was the first New Mexico football coach to reach the coveted 300-win plateau. He arrived at the mark with Eldorado on Sept. 22, 1995, following a 21-2 victory over then No. 1-ranked Goddard at the Wool Bowl.

Gentry finished with a career mark of 305-102-5. His last game was a 35-21 state quarterfinal loss — ironically, at the hands of Highland and coach Judge Chavez. Oddly enough, the two final losses of his career both came to the Hornets.

“To be in that same office that Bill Gentry used to be in, it was amazing,” Chavez said Sunday.

Gentry is probably most famous for having created unique spins on the cagey, misdirection Wing-T (or Delaware Wing-T) rush offense, which was utilized with tremendous success, especially over the second half of his coaching career.

“He was a man of tremendous principles, and he was all business,” Williams said. “He was an intense competitor. He wanted to win every game by as much as he could win by.”

Gentry won, prodigiously so, for nearly four decades, as he averaged just over eight victories a season over those 38 years. His teams qualified for the playoffs 25 times, and, remarkably, Gentry suffered only three losing seasons (1961, 1983, 1987). He was named the national coach of the year in 1994 by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. He also is a National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Famer, a member of the National High School Hall of Fame, Albuquerque Sports Hall of Fame (now known as the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame) and the University of New Mexico Hall of Honor.

He won 245 games at Highland from 1958 through the 1988 season. In that offseason, he stunned the state when he jumped from the Hornets to rival Eldorado, where he was 60-20 in seven seasons. Gentry coached the Eagles into the state championship game in 1990 and 1991, losing both years to Roanhaus’ Wildcats. The second of those games was an excruciating, 13-10 double-overtime loss for Eldorado at Wilson Stadium in 1991.

“You could write forever on him,” said an emotional Mark Henry, who called plays for Highland, and Gentry, from 1986-88 before succeeding Gentry as the Hornets’ head coach in 1989. “He’s meant so much to so many people. It’s hard to see him go like that.”

Gentry’s passing drew many tributes, from coaching rivals and former players alike. (A more expansive list of quotes and reactions to Gentry’s death accompanies this story.)

“You always had to be prepared. If you weren’t prepared, he’d make you look silly, because you knew he always was,” said Kevin Barker, who coached against Gentry’s Eldorado team when he was just starting at Manzano.

Roanhaus is now the only living member of the 300-win club in New Mexico, with the passing of Gentry and of Jim Bradley in 2015. Gentry ranks third on the list; Roanhaus has 343 victories, Bradley had 310.

“I learned to play football from him,” said former Highland standout Brad Winter, who played for Gentry in the late 1960s. “He made me a lot of who I am today. I think people really loved playing for him.”

Carl “Bill” Gentry was born in Slaton, Texas, in 1926. He played at Slaton High, later served in the Navy in World War II and eventually became a student athlete at the University of New Mexico, where he was a guard and tackle for the Lobos in 1948 and 1949. He earned his degree from UNM.

“He was Mr. Football around New Mexico because of his success,” said longtime coaching rival Jim Ottmann, who butted heads with Gentry many times while at Sandia. “Everyone looked up to him and wanted to be the same way, to have the same kind of success. … He was such a good guy.”

Gentry is survived by his wife of seven decades, Mary, plus children Billy, Marcy and Tom. One of his grandchildren is Zach Gentry, a former quarterback at Eldorado and current tight end with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

An announcement on services for Gentry will be forthcoming at a later date.

“I hurt,” said Jim Hulsman, the legendary former Albuquerque High boys basketball coach who knew Gentry for almost 65 years and had worked with Gentry at several schools. “I’m having a little bit of trouble. He was a good one.”

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