Charlie Bayless, the nation’s longest serving high school basketball coach, will be retiring at the end of the season.
The 88-year-old Bayless, whose 60 seasons as a head coach and 59 years at Happy Valley are national records, informed school administrators of his decision two weeks ago. School officials said a search for Bayless’ replacement won’t begin until the season ends.
“It’s time,” Bayless said. “It’s like an old car where the parts start to wear out. It’s gotten hard at 88 years old to climb with the bus with a bunch of 16 years old.”
Over his career, his teams have amassed 964 wins, including nine state tournament appearances and the school’s second state championship in 1974.
The other title came under coach A.L. “John” Treadway in 1950, whom both Bayless and Walter “Buck” Van Huss played for.
The three men accounted for nearly 3,000 head coaching victories as Treadway retired as the winningest coach in the state of Tennessee with 843 wins in 1953. Van Huss later surpassed the mark and still holds the state record with 1,021 wins.
“He was tough,” Bayless said about Treadway. “Back in those days, if you didn’t run the play the way he wanted, he jumped all over you and you felt it from head to toe.”
Bayless, who has coached two Tennessee all-star teams to wins over bordering states, served as an assistant to Van Huss at the 1989 McDonald’s All-Star Game. Their East team consisting of future NBA stars, Kenny Anderson, Bobby Hurley and Allan Houston, faced off against a West team led by Shaquille O’Neal.
As player, Bayless was a guard on Happy Valley’s 1941 state runner-up team. He later served in the Army in World War II as a military policeman in France, and played basketball at East Tennessee State.
He started his coaching career as an assistant at Happy Valley for the 1950-51 season before taking over as head coach at Jonesborough High School in 1952. He moved back to his alma mater one year later and has been there ever since.
For a period in the 1950’s, Bayless also served as Happy Valley’s football and baseball coach. From 1953-60, he compiled a record of 30-25-4 as head football coach, including a league record of 27-19-4.
Later on, he served as the school’s golf coach with two of his golfers, Jimmy Jones and Lisa Phipps, winning an individual state championships. All total, he has coached for over 100 sports seasons on Warrior Hill.
Marty Street, who along with Teddy McKeehan were the stars of the state championship basketball team, later faced Bayless as a rival coach. More than the wins and losses, Street said Bayless earned respect for the way he treated people.
“I know of him calling other coaches when they were going through a tough time, or even players from other teams,” Street said. “He’s the true ambassador of basketball in this area and has been for a long, long time.”
University High head coach Justin Penley, who has been on the winning end and losing end of games against Bayless, echoed those sentiments.
“What you have to admire about him is his dedication to the game and to his players,” University High head coach Justin Penley said. “He’s touched so many lives over the years. He’s an impressive individual. He works every day to make his kids better. It’s not just about molding them into better basketball players, but helping prepare them for life.”
While Bayless has the record for most games coached in the state of Tennessee, he’s often said he doesn’t hold the record of most games watched. That distinction belongs to his wife, Jane, a faithful companion, along with children and grandchildren, through all the wins and losses.
“They’ve meant everything to me. They’ve been great backers,” Bayless said. “They’ve had to, or they would have left me a long time ago.”
In addition to his time as coach, he served as a past president of Watauga Conference and was a Carter County commissioner for 51 years. For the past decade, selected college-bound students have been receipents of the Charlie and Jane Bayless Scholarship Fund.
Among the honors bestowed upon Bayless are inductions into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the Northeast Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the East Tennessee State University Hall of Fame and the Happy Valley Hall of Fame.
Happy Valley has a special Charlie Bayless Night scheduled for Feb. 10 when the Warriors host Sullivan East. All former players and school alumni are encouraged to attend.
Penley, who played at Dobyns-Bennett at the Buck Van Huss Dome, said Bayless’ impact on the game of basketball is massive.
“You hear the word icon and it’s really thrown around too often these days,” Penley said. “With him, it’s really appropriate. He set a standard for coaching in this area with the amount of time he’s put in, the success he’s had, winning so many games. Basketball is definitely better off for having Charlie Bayless coach it all these years.”