Rodney Woods, coaching legend, fired in Kentucky

Marvin Westwestwords

University of Kentucky couldn’t afford to fire basketball coach John Calipari so Wayne County High School fired legendary coach Rodney Woods to distract the bluegrass segment of America.

It is distracted.

Hundreds of former players, relatives and fans in and around Monticello are trying to find out what happened and why. Lexington television reporters are on the case.

Brian Milam, sports director of WKYT and a Kentucky high school historian, declared “an absolute travesty has occurred. Wayne County coach Rodney Woods has been relieved of his duties, pink-slipped by the new superintendent.

“Thirty-eight years of winning and Coach Woods gets canned like this? Something is not right in Monticello.”

There were spirited comments from others.

“Heck of a coach and even better human being.”

“He won’t be out of coaching long unless he chooses to be.”

“Shameful that Wayne County forced him out.”

The official decision makes almost as much sense as the press release.

Superintendent Donnie Neal is quoted as saying “Wayne County Schools has made the decision to go in a new direction with some of their athletic programs.”

I don’t know what Mr. Neal is really thinking. He is not currently answering his phone (606 348-8484).

Woods, 71, the long-ago Tennessee point guard for Ray Mears at the beginning of the Ernie and Bernie Show, has been coaching basketball for 45 years. He thought he might learn to like it.

He started as a graduate assistant at LMU. He coached three seasons in Powell Valley and three in Corbin, Ky. He has really been at Wayne County for 38 years. He isn’t sure about his record.

“Something more than 900 wins,” said Woods. “A year or two ago, they said I was at 856 as a coach in Kentucky. We won some after that. We were 24-8 this season.”

Woods may already be at a thousand. The outlook was positive. Eleven of his 12-man roster will be returning next season.

Mears saw it coming most of a lifetime ago. He said Rodney was a coach on the floor for the Volunteers. Ernie Grunfeld said Woods knew what Mears would decide the team should do about a play or a situation before the coach decided.

Woods played in 76 Tennessee games. He averaged 6.9 assists. Of course he threw scoring passes to Grunfeld, Bernard King and Michael Jackson. That was 1974-75, a good year.

Woods has made an impact as a high school coach. Basketball in Monticello is played at the Rodney C. Woods Gymnasium. As an added honor, his name is painted on the court. He has twice been inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame, as a player and coach.

Woods is in the National Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He was Kentucky’s inaugural recipient of the John Wooden Legacy Award. That was big.

That recognition seeks to honor scholastic basketball coaches across the country who are educators and have won in coaching, in the classroom and in the community in ways that fit the reputation of the late coach at UCLA.

Rodney fits. He is perceived as a man of character. He is religious. He has helped others. He has lasted a long time.

Woods retired as Wayne County athletics director eight years ago. His only jobs since have been  coaching and looking after grandchildren. He says he became a political football. He says he was not surprised he was terminated.

“Friends have told me that Mr. Neal said 10 years ago that he would get me. It just took a while.”

Woods says animosity was rooted in Neal’s original application to become superintendent a decade ago. Rodney’s wife, Cynthia, a teacher, voted against the school board even bothering to interview him.

This time the board vote was 3-2 yes.

What in the world will Rodney Woods do without coaching basketball?

“I’ll see more Tennessee games next year. I’ve been to 10 in the last 40 years. I was always busy when the Vols were playing.”

He has never been out of touch. He was the key link to Tennessee’s recruitment of Chris Lofton in March 2004.

Woods had seen Lofton at Rupp Arena when he led Mason County to the state title. He had coached against him and recognized a potential college star that did not have scholarship offers from major basketball schools.

“I called his coach in Maysville, Kelly Wells, and asked how Lofton’s recruitment was going. He said it wasn’t. Chris had taken one official visit, to Valparaiso. I called Tennessee coaches and said Chris Lofton can play and you can get him.”

Buzz Peterson followed up. Lofton hit 42.2 percent of his threes and scored 2,131 points.

And that is just a tidbit in the legendary career of Rodney Woods.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is

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