Collins calls it career at PHS: Trojan mentor of 14 years won 201 games


PORTSMOUTH — Winning basketball games on the court, and keeping kids on the right paths for real life off of it, will be Gene Collins’ legendary legacy at Portsmouth High School.

That’s because the 57-year-old Collins, following 14 years as the head coach at PHS after one season as an assistant, has retired from that position — with 33 consecutive years in the books of coaching basketball, having spent 18 seasons assisting in Shawnee State University’s men’s program.

“Fourteen years has went really fast in my mind. It just seems like yesterday we were getting started. Then 14 years later here we are,” said Collins, in a recent interview with The Portsmouth Daily Times. “But it’s time, and I think they (Trojans) need a different voice. I thought it would be an easier transition for whom the next coach is to inherit a team that has a little bit of experience before they get into a total rebuild situation.”

With a lack of wins, and even numbers, in the recent junior varsity and especially junior high programs, on the surface it appears a youth movement is underway — so Collins considers this the right time to step away.

However, Collins’ contributions to the PHS program — and school district — are immeasurable, as he graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1983.

He was one of the founders for the alternative school program, which is for students which have been removed from the traditional education setting —and which attempts for those same students to ultimately be placed back in mainstream schools.

Collins made a major transition himself to Portsmouth City Schools in the summer of 2011—having previously been employed at the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Center.

“The (Portsmouth City Schools) district has been very supportive of me from day one. They brought me in at a time when my career was up in the air,” he said. “That was an interesting situation, because we found out only about nine months prior that the facility was going to be shut down. It’s always been a great relationship between myself and the district. They’ve allowed me to do a lot of things outside of the box that they hadn’t before. The support we got from the community, the backing from the administration and teachers, I couldn’t ask for any better cooperation that I’ve had from them.”

As the boys basketball coach at one of Ohio’s tradition-rich programs with four state championships, including in 1978 and again in 1988 (Division II in initial academic year in which Ohio High School Athletic Association utilized four divisions for classification of boys basketball tournaments), Collins continued that winning tradition —becoming the second all-time winningest coach in PHS history, trailing only George Haller.

Calling it “a match made in Heaven” for him, Collins claimed “my intentions were never to be the head coach. It just kind of happened.”

But, what happened was “we had success right away and we were able to keep the momentum going.”

Collins, who won 24 postseason tournament tilts, completed his decade-and-a-half tenure with 201 wins and 130 losses —not to mention one Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, one Ohio Valley Conference, and three Division III Southeast District championships (2011, 2012 and 2015).

“Those years especially were really really fun and we coached a lot of really really good kids, really talented kids,” said Collins.

But, his Trojans of 2011 (21-5) and 2012 (23-4) are undoubtedly remembered most —for those Portsmouth teams punched back-to-back tickets to the coveted Division III state tournament.

Collins captured Division III state Coach of the Year honors that historic season (2012), as voting was then conducted by The Associated Press.

In fact, the 2012 club remains the most recent Southeast District boys basketball team to win a state semifinal bout.

“That group was a crazy roster. We had all seniors and only one junior on that roster. That group was special,” said Collins. “They played their roles, never complained about their roles, they had fun and they were a perfect fit for each other.

No Southeast District team has ever won the Division III tournament —as in the past quarter-century South Webster won it all in Division IV (2006), Chillicothe in Division II (2008), and Oak Hill in Division IV (2009).

Of his 14 teams, six Trojans individually scored at least 1,000 career points.

Collins mentioned some of his all-time terrific Trojan players —Dion McKinley, Ky’re Allison, Wayne Evans, Sky Oliver, Duke Edwards, Andrew Bendolph and Matthew Fraulini for starters.

Collectively, four Trojan teams made the trip to Florida for the KSA Tournament over Christmas break, as the school district allowed Collins and company to fund-raise for and travel to “a great experience for the kids” on and off the floor.

“We played different competition there, but it was great competition each time. The kids got to go theme parks, an NBA game, fun things like that too,” he said.

While the Florida trips and games themselves were all in the public view, Collins’ caring for his players —and making sure they steered straight on life’s highways —was with little publicity, and mostly behind the scenes.

Indeed, Collins’ coaching at PHS went well beyond basketball.

“The district allowed me to take each kid and each situation individually,” he said. “Portsmouth is unique, and I always said I was very careful about who I allowed to be on my staff. Sometimes, I would take somebody who had less Xs and Os, but more compassion and understanding for the kid and his situation. If they didn’t have that compassion or understanding, then I wouldn’t let them coach with me. We don’t have many of the two-parent homes, we don’t have everybody driving cars, we have guys missing practice because they have to take care of their little brothers or sisters. They have to become a parent of the home.”

Speaking of home, Collins’ son Len coached alongside him for 10 of those 14 years.

“It was a great relationship because Len has always been around ball,” said the elder Collins, with a laugh. “When I was coaching at Shawnee State, I could bring Len to practice when he was six years old. It’s funny, most kids want cars and coloring books and that kind of thing, but all Len wanted was a pencil and a piece of paper so he could draw up plays. Here he is at six years old watching our practices and drawing Xs and Os. He has always liked coaching and being around ball. He was the only reason I started coaching high school ball.”

Len Collins, per Gene Collins, coaxed his father into taking the Portsmouth position —“convincing me that the program could really benefit from me being the coach at the time”.

Collins accepted the position, players transferred into being Trojans, and the rest —as they say —is PHS history.

For 14 years of carrying on that Trojan tradition.

“I was a Portsmouth guy, I surrounded myself with a very good staff with a lot of experience and knowledge and understanding, the players trusted me, and we played as a unit,” he said. “There is always that pride of being a Portsmouth Trojan. It’s something special, it’s been something special.”

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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