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Hopkins reflects on 40-year coaching career

Dragons Head Coach Jeff Hopkins congratulates Parker Phillips on his 3-run HR

By Mac Trammell

Jeff Hopkins’ life thrives on the strength of the relationships he’s fostered. For more than four decades, Hopkins has dedicated himself to realizing the most in those around him and himself.

Two weeks ago, Hopkins retired from the game of baseball after 40 years of coaching, which began in 1975 at his alma mater, the University of Memphis. He started there as a graduate assistant and would go on to become a head coach at Skyview Academy, Jackson State Community College, Memphis, and finally, Collierville High School.

In his career, Hopkins would win conference championships, coach of the year awards and a state championship. In 2009, he was inducted into the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

But none of those accomplishments trump the connections he’s made.

“The greatest thing about coaching is the relationships that you develop with your players,” he said. “That’s what’s always been important to me.”

Former players often return to visit Hopkins. One in particular, from Jackson State Community College, came back 25 years after his playing days.

Hopkins has said that those visits are what make coaching worthwhile—seeing his former players and knowing they’re doing well.

The relationships he’s built with his players have not gone unnoticed, especially by the Collierville Schools system.

“He’s not only been successful on the field,” said Dr. Russell Dyer, Collierville School’s chief of staff, “he’s also helped his baseball players to grow up into successful young men. He’s big into character—that’s something I’ve always heard.”

He won his only state championship with Collierville in 2013 with a team he described as one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams he has ever coached. He said the team peaked at the right time, got timely hitting and good pitching, and played together as a team.

At Memphis, his 1994 team set numerous records, including a 52-11 season, which earned the Tigers a date with perennial power Cal State Fullerton in the Regionals, where they eventually lost. The ’94 team was part of a string of three consecutive conference tournament finals appearances for the Tigers. They won in both 1993 and 1995.

As a player, Hopkins was a pitcher and later a co-captain at Memphis. He was also named to the Missouri Valley All-Conference team during his time at then Memphis State. As a result of all of his contributions, the University retired his jersey earlier this year.
“I’ve always been a Tiger,” he said. “I’ve been a Tiger since 1970.”

He is now in the midst of three weeks of youth baseball camps at Collierville. Last week, as he headed to his office after the final day of camp, he noticed several young kids whose parents had yet to pick them up. He approached the children, between five and nine years old, and chatted them up, asking if they’d had fun and if they would come back next year.

It was as if he were momentarily their grandparent, simply happy that they were there and having fun—and that he could be a part of their happiness, like he already wanted to form the right relationships with the children.

Hopkins is himself a grandfather of three. He explained that it was his desire to spend more time with his family that led him to retirement.
“I felt like it was time for me to start devoting time to my family, my grandchildren, my children,” he said. “After spending 40 years teaching and coaching other peoples’ children, I wanted to start spending some time with my children and my grandchildren.”

Hopkins especially noted the help of his wife, Ginger, to whom he’s been married for 43 years.

“I’ve got a very special wife who put herself in the background so that I could pursue teaching and baseball,” he said. “Any coach that’s marriage has endured that amount of time has got a very special lady.”

In addition, he acknowledged the support of parents and the Collierville administration for his success.

“He has put in a lot of good years at Collierville High School and done a fantastic job,” Dyer said. “We’re definitely going to miss him.”

But Hopkins said he will stick around. He said he will now be Collierville’s “number one fan,” and attend as many games as possible. He loves the game too much to let it go completely.

“I’ve had the blessing of being able to coach some pretty good players,” Hopkins said. “And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

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