CABOT — Cabot boys basketball coach Jerry Bridges has decided to call it a career.
After 14 years in Cabot and 33 years in education, Bridges, 55, announced May 10 that he will retire.
“It’s been something that has been on my mind for a while … throughout the season, talking to my wife,” Bridges said. “I’ve done a lot of praying about it. I wanted to get through the season. We always get going after spring break with the offseason program. I enjoy that a lot. That’s my favorite time of year.”
Once Cabot returned from spring break in late March, Bridges said, he wanted to see how things were going before making any hasty decision.
“It just didn’t feel the same to me,” he said. “It was time. I’m not going to cheat the kids. That’s one thing I always said. If I can’t do it the way I’m supposed to do it, I’m not going to do it anymore.”
Bridges has been a high school basketball coach for 29 years. He previously coached at Caddo Hills, Morrilton and Fort Smith Southside before getting out of coaching and serving as athletic director for the Mountain Home School District for three years. He got the itch to coach when the Cabot job came open after the 2003-04 school year.
“I’ve had a great time here. … I work with great people,” Bridges said. “That is probably what makes it hard. Every building I work in, people are so genuine. It’s just an awesome environment.”
Bridges said he has stayed at Cabot longer than any place he’s ever worked.
“I love it here,” he said. “I’m very demanding. That is something I don’t apologize for. I’m not going to beg for effort and intensity. That is how this game should be played. I’m going to demand it.”
Bridges also said he knows he can be tough on administrators to do their jobs.
“Sometimes, I can be hard on an administrator, making their job difficult,” he said. “I apologize for that. I’ve always been very passionate about what I do. I think there is a certain way you should go about this game. When I came in here, they wanted us to build a competitive program. I said if the kids are hard and get after it, there’s not a reason why we can’t be competitive year in and year out.”
Bridges’ first three years were difficult, but during the 2007-08 season, the Panthers made the state tournament for the first time in 30 years. That was the start of an 11-year run, which is still ongoing, of the Panthers qualifying for postseason play. The highlight of that run was winning the Class 7A state championship in 2016.
“They said it couldn’t be done at Cabot,” Bridges said, “but we did it.”
Bridges said this year’s team, which finished 18-11, was 3-7 in 7A-Central play and facing the possibility of the postseason streak ending. They beat Little Rock Central, Bryant and Fort Smith Northside before losing to North Little Rock in the regular-season finale. That run got them into the state tournament.
“Being an overachiever isn’t a bad thing,” Bridges said. “That’s a good thing. We were 3-7 at one time, and you’ve got the top four teams in the conference coming up. You might ought to win all four, but you win three out of four and get it. I was really proud of them. We overachieved in that stretch.”
The win over Northside, who played in the state-championship game, featured a game-winning shot by Noah Allgood.
“Noah Allgood threw up a running bank shot, similar to LeBron James,” Bridges said. “It was the same angle to beat Northside. That will be something I always remember.”
Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman said he remembers when Bridges interviewed for the job.
“I remember when Coach Bridges was interviewed, stating that he wanted to make sure that Cabot basketball was never considered an ‘automatic win’ for any team in the state,” Thurman said. “He has done just that. We have a competitive program, and teams know that they better be prepared to play Cabot.”
Thurman said Bridges is one of the best coaches in the state.
“Coach Bridges is one of the best I’ve ever seen at really understanding the game of basketball and how to make adjustments that best work for his players,” Thurman said. “He has taken the Cabot program to a level that nobody believed to be possible when he took over.”
Thurman said the school district is taking applications for Bridges’ position.
“We want to move quickly to fill the position so the players can go into the summer knowing what to expect,” Thurman said.
Bridges said he plans to continue living in Cabot. His wife, Lori, is the pre-kindergarten director for the Cabot School District. He will also help with the family business, the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo in Hot Springs. He said it’s been in his family since 1947.
He also plans on just being a basketball fan.
“I’ve loved it here at Cabot,” Bridges said. “I know I can walk into that gym next year and enjoy watching kids play basketball.”
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or email@example.com.