BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
During the 2021-22 high school basketball season, Brian Jennings would walk up to various veteran coaches he knew, including Rochester boys basketball coach Rob Malchow, and privately ask them how they did it.
How were they able to run their programs given the time commitment it takes? How were they able to oversee not only the varsity program but also the feeder system?
For Jennings, the job of balancing all those demands became too time-consuming, and he resigned as Rochester girls basketball coach on Feb. 22. He had a brief team meeting that morning and informed the media later.
He had wanted to tell the team earlier, but multiple snow days and the Presidents Day holiday delayed that team meeting. He said he thought most of the players already knew by the time he told them.
“There’s all sorts of reasons,” Jennings said. “There’s nothing really big. There’s nothing really small. The time that it takes in my mind to put into that program, from high school on down to the elementary, to put it the way I want it takes a lot of time. And then it also takes a lot of work. In the past, it’s been a lot of fun doing that, working with the middle school kids, the elementary kids.
“Somewhere along the line, it became not fun. It became work.”
Jennings said coaching in the varsity games was always fun, but when adding what he felt like he needed to do at the various levels of the program, it became too much.
“It’s tiring, it’s time-consuming, and to keep the program really moving in the direction that I’d like to see it go, it needs somebody with some added energy,” Jennings said. “It’s just time for somebody else to take over and do that at this point.”
Jennings’ final game was a 49-37 loss to Pioneer in a Class 2A, Sectional 37 quarterfinal at Lewis Cass on Feb. 1. After that game, he said he was “probably about 95 percent of the way there” in terms of making his decision to step down.
“And my thing is when I knew I thought I was going to be done after this season, I actually probably put more into this season because I didn’t want to make it feel like I was shorting the girls and not putting in my max effort,” Jennings said. “I probably even put more effort into this season knowing that it might be the last one that I would coach.”
Rochester went 54-39 in Jennings’ four seasons as coach. Rochester tied for the Three Rivers Conference title in 2020 and won sectional titles in 2020 and 2021.
Jennings’ four years as coach coincided with the high school careers of forward-post player Lexy Thomas and guard Kami Burkett. Thomas was a first-team all-TRC pick in 2021 and 2022, and Burkett was an honorable mention all-TRC pick in 2022.
“It just happened to be that they were the freshmen coming in when I was here,” Jennings said. “Every senior class we’ve had has been pretty special. There have been a lot of special kids go through there in the short time I was there, and there are a lot of special kids still in the program. Kami and Lex really mean a lot to me, but to go out with them, I wouldn’t say it’s nice to go out with them. It’s hard to leave some of the kids. The kids are great. The parents have been great, but Lex and Kami are two special ones. It’s nice to see them through all four years.”
Jennings praised the Rochester administration on his way out.
“This year, working with the new administration, Oscar Haughs as principal and Kevin Renie as athletic director, it’s been wonderful,” Jennings said. “The changes and things that they’re doing in the athletic department and the energy that they have for the kids, I think it’s going to pay huge dividends down the road for all Zebra sports.”
Jennings’ pathway to coaching was unusual. A 1986 Argos grad, he helped out there after graduating college. He also worked as an assistant girls coach at LaVille, but he gained greater recognition after he ran his own AAU girls program for middle school and high school players. Jennings enjoyed the AAU experience because for the players that play AAU, basketball is their primary sport.
After seeing daughters and nieces play at the high school level – from Jenna Ruff to Alexis Waldron to 2014 Miss Basketball Whitney Jennings – he got his first head coaching job at Rochester in May 2018.
He had to adjust from coaching AAU players dedicated to basketball to multi-sport athletes who balance basketball with other sports.
It became too much in the end.
“To me, it’s just time for somebody else to have that voice and lead the program,” Jennings said.
Rochester girls basketball coach Brian Jennings, left, talks to Kallie Watson (10) and Kami Burkett (1) during the Lady Zs’ 49-37 loss to Pioneer in a Class 2A, Sectional 37 quarterfinal at Lewis Cass on Feb. 1. The game turned out to be Jennings’ last as coach. He resigned three weeks later. (photo provided by Dee Brown)