By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
MOOREVILLE – Rex Berryman’s qualities – a staunch work ethic, hard-nosed discipline and a driving desire to succeed – were formed as a sharecropper’s son toiling in the cotton fields of Prentiss County.
The coach parlayed those attributes into success on the baseball fields, softball fields and gyms of Mississippi.
Berryman, 60, will retire after 38 seasons, all at Mooreville High School, when his Troopers baseball team records its final out of the 2010 season.
He’ll exit as the state’s all-time winningest baseball coach, having compiled a current career record of 1,065 wins, 349 losses in 38 years. That remarkable feat includes eight state championships and 10 North state titles.
“This is it, I’m not going somewhere else,” Berryman said this week. “It’s hit me that it’s time. I want to enjoy a few years. There’s more out there than baseball, basketball, softball and school.”
The coach, whose final team is state playoffs bound, isn’t sure why he remained in the profession so long.
“I was probably dumb,” he said, then smiled. “This is a young man’s game, but it’s what I love to do. It was my calling. I never thought about doing anything else.”
Softball, hoops success
Berryman, who played for legendary state Hall of Fame coach Gerald Caviness on two state championships basketball teams at New Site, didn’t just lead Mooreville to success in baseball.
He directed girls slow-pitch softball teams to four state championships and compiled a 457-136 record in 15 seasons. His boys basketball teams finished 639-311 in 29 seasons and won a state title.
Shannon boys basketball coach Cedric Brim played on Berryman’s 1991 state championship hoops team that finished 38-1. He started at guard that season and later played for Ole Miss. He said his former mentor had a knack for getting the best out of his players.
“He was very forward about what he wanted from you,” said Brim, who also played baseball. “He was very demanding. He got the most out of you.
“He was also fun to play for.”
Berryman’s baseball, softball and basketball teams won nearly 75 percent of their games – 2,161 wins, 796 losses.
“I’m proud that I started here and I will finish here,” said Berryman, whose first job – and only job – following graduation from Delta State was with the Lee County school. “I’m proud that we won consistently here, with the same kind of kids.
“You don’t have to be perfect in everything you do as a coach, as long as you can sell the kids on the program. Knowing all the ABC’s of a sport doesn’t make you a winner. You’ve got to believe you’re a winner.”
Matt Smith, who played baseball for Berryman six seasons, including the 1978 state championship team, is not amazed by Berryman’s ability to maintain success in the program all these years.
“He made you believe you were going to win every game,” said Smith, who later pitched for Ole Miss and is now an assistant principal for New Hope High School. “He expected it, we expected it.”
Smith said Berryman’s approach to the game was more of a “country ball” style.
“Everything may not be technically right, but it’s still successful,” he said. “Some teams are like ballet … polished. Mooreville doesn’t play that way. We grew up playing country ball. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had a little bit of talent.”
Jamie Russell played five seasons for Berryman and was a member of the ’92 and ’94 championship teams. He believes he knows the secret to his coach’s success.
“He’s consistent with what he does, what he teaches,” said Russell, Ripley’s head baseball coach. “He keeps it simple, lets the other team make the mistakes.”
Phil Webb, a five-year starter for Berryman and member of the ’92 and ’94 state title teams, says nobody does a better job preparing players.
“He gets them prepared and focused,” said Webb, Pontotoc’s head baseball coach. “He gets everything he can out of his players and they play as hard as they can for him.
“They expect to be good and play in May every year. I tell other coaches, you don’t want to get in a close game with them.”
Love him, hate him
Being in the profession 38 years has earned Berryman as many detractors as admirers.
“A lot of coaches will be happy to have him gone, so he won’t be beating them,” Webb said, then chuckled.
“He wants to beat you and it doesn’t matter if you’re a friend or not,” Russell said. “He told me before we played this year, ‘I like you, but I’m going to beat your butt.”’
Berryman admits that he’s rubbed quite a few people the wrong way during his tenure in the Troopers’ dugout, but don’t expect an apology.
“When I’m not on the field, I’m a likable guy. Really, I don’t like controversy,” he said. “On the field, I’m not going to stand for Mooreville being mistreated or abused.”
Berryman will leave the only school he has ever worked for – “I have never applied anywhere but here” – with no regrets. He’s proud of his players, his teams, his record.
“I’ll give these kids most of the credit and I’ll take a little,” he said, recently, while cleaning out his office in the school’s gym. “The kids were good enough to do it. I didn’t swing a bat or pitch a ball. I just sat over there by the dugout and coached … and acted like a nut sometimes.
“They knew how to win. I hope that’s the part I had in it.”
High school: Jumpertown (2 years), New Site (2 years)
College: Northeast Mississippi Community College, Delta State University
Family: Linda, wife of 39 years; Casi, daughter; one grandson, Rylan
Coaching career: (38 years) Mooreville High School
Baseball: (38 years) 1,065-349 record, 8 state championships: 1976, 1978, 1987, 1992, 1994, 2001, 2002, 2005.
Softball: (15 years) 457-136 record, 4 state championships: 1998, 1999, 2003, 2006
Basketball: (29 years) 639-311 record, 1 state championship: 1991
Career Highlights: Inducted 2004 to Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Fame. … Career winning percentage of .730 in three sports. … Milestone wins in baseball: 500 – against Baldwyn, April 19, 1990; 800 – against Aberdeen, March 31, 2001; 1,000 – against Kossuth, March 18, 2008.
TV Show: Andy Griffith
Movie: John Wayne movies
Meal: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, peas
Ballpark food: Hot dog
MLB team: Yankees
Sport: Pro baseball, high school baseball, college football and basketball
Vacation destination: Florida
Berryman Q&A: ‘Winning’s one of the hardest things to do.’
- On winning with Mooreville kids year after year: “Our kids were no better than others. I didn’t coach any better. We did have discipline and we always worked hard at being a team.”
- On the difference between good players and great players: “Good high school players are ones who go out there and get better every day. Great high school players go out there and make every one around them better. They understand that nine of them have to be better in order to win.”
- On how he became Mooreville’s basketball coach in 1972: “They asked me in the interview, ‘Do you think you can win?’ I said ‘I can take any five players you give me and win.’ Well, I was about the dumbest coach to hit the floor, but we won, even went to North half. I was desperate. I felt like I needed to go to work. I didn’t know if I could win or not.”
- On football, the one sport he never coached in 38 years at Mooreville: “No person in the state knows less than me when it comes to football. I’d never been to a football game until I came here. I just didn’t understand the game.”
- On the secret to winning 1,000 games in baseball: “We don’t do anything fancy. We just pitch, play defense and do a little hitting. That’s how you win. You don’t try to trick anybody. I’ve coached a long time, that’s all (1,000 wins) means. This was all done by the kids, kids from one community. I was fortunate to be a part of it.”
- On starting a baseball program at Mooreville. It had been disbanded in 1966: “I asked to start a baseball team. They said that was fine as long as I didn’t expect to be paid. We played our first two years at Mantachie.”
- On knowing your players and putting them in the best position to succeed: “You’ve got to know a kid. You can’t put him in a situation where he’s not comfortable. You put them in the best situation for them to be successful. I’ve had kids play for me who couldn’t play other places, but they do here because they know their role.”
- On the fact that he’s never been thrown out of a game by an umpire: “The secret is make sure you’re right … or make sure they don’t know you’re wrong.”
- On winning and losing: “What we won, we won. What we lost, we lost. Nothing’s given to you. Nothing’s taken from you. Winning’s one of the hardest things to do. Too many people celebrate early, like if you win one, but you need to win two. Finish the task and then you can enjoy it.”
- On the difficulties of disciplining players today: “Kids are smarter today, but not in good ways. They see athletes get away with things. They don’t like to hear you say they didn’t do something right. When I played ball years ago, I looked forward to the game. If we didn’t get to play, I was disappointed. That’s not the case today.”
- On the importance of getting an education: “My high school coach, Gerald Caviness, used to always say, ‘You can play now and work the rest of your life or you can work now and play the rest of your life.’ That’s something I always tell my players.”
- On his pending retirement and the chance that he might return to the sidelines one day: “I did renew my teaching certificate for five more years. I wanted to leave that option open. More than likely, I’m through. I don’t see myself getting back into it. It’s hit me that it’s time.”
- On why he elected to remain at Mooreville for 38 years: “I never considered going anywhere else. I was satisfied where I was at. I’ve talked with other people over the years, but this is the only job I ever applied for.”
- On what he learned playing for Hall of Fame coach Gerald Caviness on two of his five state championship basketball teams at New Site: “I learned a lot by just watching him coach. He was a disciplinarian and demanded that you did things his way. If you don’t have discipline, you’re not going to win consistently. He taught me that you’re able to beat good teams because somewhere along the line they’ll lose focus.”
- On being a diehard Yankees fans and despising Bill Mazeroski: “My dad bought a TV and the first game I ever saw was the Yankees and Dodgers in the World Series. My dad used to let us come in from the cotton field to watch the World Series. I remember watching the game (Game 7 of the 1960 World Series) when Bill Mazeroski hit a ninth-inning homer to beat the Yankees. It bothered me so much that I can’t even watch it today.”