The 100 Moments of TSU Athletics presented by Taco Bell® series continues by remembering one of the most recognizable persons in Tennessee State athletic history.
Anyone who comes to TSU or attends one of its home basketball games knows that the "Gentry Center" is the home stadium for Big Blue basketball. The stadium is named for Howard C. Gentry because his impressive resume as not only a football coach, but also as a person.
Gentry became TSU's 12th head football coach in 1954 and coached the team for five seasons. In that brief amount of time the Tigers won 42 games and only lost ten. They were Midwest Conference Champions in 1956, 1959 and 1960 and won a Black College National Championship.
Before coming to the Tigers, the TSU athletic director at the time had dreamed of playing football games in front of 50,000 people. At that time, HBCUs were lucky to get one-tenth of that number to attend games. Under the guidance of Gentry, the Tigers played in front of over 50,000 people as the Tigers won the Orange Blossom Classic over Florida A&M in 1956.
Gentry's focus was originally on the offensive line before taking over the head coaching spot when then-head coach Henry Kean was forced to retire for health issues. Gentry carried his line of scrimmage prowess with him when he became a head coach and it comes as no surprise that his teams dominated up front. The team had eight All-American linemen during Gentry's tenure.
The Tigers were well coached and talented, but it was Gentry's no-nonsense, hard-working attitude that propelled them to greatness.
"I have had some of [Gentry's] former players come up to me and tell me that my father was one of the most honest people they have ever met. They called him a gentle giant; he didn't cuss, but he was stern and had principles," Howard Gentry Jr. recalls about his father. "He made sure that everybody else lived by those principles, too."
After being thrust into the head coach's position, TSU called upon Gentry to become the school's Athletic Director in 1961. The position came with more power, but also more headaches.
"As an Athletics Director, you aren't always the good guy because you have to make decisions that are sometimes not the most popular. Dad used to always say that being Athletics Director is a lonely job because you can't please everyone," Gentry Jr. remembers.
It was a grind going to work everyday in a job he wasn't accustomed to doing. Still, Gentry found success as an AD, hiring the legendary coach John Merritt and inspiring his son to follow in his footsteps.
"It was my dream to be like my father, but I just wanted to be my own person and not live in his shadow. In spite of that, I wanted to be just like my dad and accomplish the things that he accomplished," Gentry Jr. said.
Gentry Jr., now a criminal court clerk in Nashville, played college football just like his father and served as TSU AD in the 1980's.
Eventually, TSU named the basketball complex in Gentry's honor. It was the capstone to the already illustrious career of one of the school's finest coaches. Stevie Wonder played a concert in honor of the naming and the only open seat in the house was up in the rafters.
"It's unbelievable that my father was so well-thought of that TSU would even consider naming a building after him," Gentry Jr. said. "It is a level of pride that goes beyond ego and humbles me."
Gentry Jr. may think that the christening is unbelievable, but it becomes viable when looking back at all of what his father accomplished.
"One lesson my father taught me was: you can't always be the fastest, strongest or smartest. What you can do is out-work the fastest, strongest or smartest. If you out-work them, you can beat them."
And beat them is exactly what Gentry did.
The 100 Moments of TSU Athletics presented by Taco Bell® highlights some of the greatest moments in honor of Tennessee State's centennial celebration. A new moment will be released each weekday for a total of 100. These moments were chosen by the TSU 100 Moments committee, which consists of alums from various departments. TSU has so many great moments, not all can be represented in these 100.
Sports Information Assistant Alex Mitchell contributed to this article.