Gallatin principal Dr. Ron Becker described girls basketball coach Jerry Landers as a man who had his priorities in order. He loved his God, family and the Gallatin High School community.
The longtime coach, teacher and mentor passed away at the age of 60 on Sunday, Jan. 9 at Hendersonville Medical Center following his battle with COVID-19.
“We talk about Earning the G at Gallatin, and he did that daily,” Becker said. “He was the ultimate school guy and always there if you needed something. He was one of the good guys, a real mentor to the kids. When people raise their kids to be like somebody, Jerry is someone who I think you should emulate. He will be missed sorely by all of us.”
Landers devoted his life to Christ at an early age. A son of a preacher, Landers poured his entire life into people because he knew the ultimate goal wasn’t this early home, but instead the Kingdom to come.
“Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last,” said C.T. Studd in his poem, “Only One Life,” Landers’ favorite.
“We always wanted to point people to the Kingdom to come,” Jerry’s wife Nancy Landers said. “This earth will pass away, but the people you pour into are eternal.”
The return on Landers’ devotion has been overwhelming for Nancy. From the bank to the Landers’ go-to breakfast spot, Nancy has felt love from the community Jerry gave so much to.
“We are amazed at the support as a family,” she said. “The blessings Jerry gave are coming back ten-fold. Our grandson, Noah, doesn’t quite understand how loved his paw paw was; I think he will see that Saturday at the funeral.”
Jerry’s love for people is what drew Nancy to him in college, aside from chasing after her on campus, she joked.
The two both had a burning passing for seeking God and His Kingdom, she said. They would attend mission prayer band and plan their life around serving others.
“At the very beginning, we wanted to make a difference in others' lives,” Nancy said. “We surrounded ourselves with Christ, and He did nothing but bless us with great friendships, physical needs, four children, and a wonderful grandchild.”
Nancy said Jerry’s original goal of becoming a broadcaster did not fit into what he knew God had in store for him. After leaving Southern Methodist College after one year, he enrolled at Pensacola Christian College.
“Jerry knew he could make a difference by teaching and coaching,” Nancy said. “His love for sports allowed him to reach people, and he always used that to help his students bloom.”
Making a difference
After college, Jerry took his first job as the girls volleyball coach at Pioneer Christian before moving to Pleasant View Christian, where he coached volleyball and basketball for three years.
After getting married, Jerry and Nancy heard the Lord call them to East Tennessee, where Jerry served as athletic director and volleyball and boys varsity basketball coach.
Continuing to serve God in all he did, Landers accepted the call to move to Higher Ground Baptist Church near Kingsport, where he and Nancy opened a family life center for three years. He was also in charge of their Upward Program and served as a youth leader and Sunday school teacher.
Nancy recalled after three years that Landers got the urge to return to the school system and coach again.
“He got this itch one day, and he just had to get back in,” she said.
Out of 36 candidates, Landers was chosen as the athletic director at St. Cecilia, where he served for five years as a basketball coach and assistant volleyball coach.
Knowing he needed to do more, Landers left St. Cecilia to pursue his master’s degree at Union University in Hendersonville for two years.
A tip from someone at Union led Jerry to apply at Shafer, where he taught for one semester before joining the TIP Program at Gallatin High School in 2014.
Landers served as volleyball assistant to coach Kim Kendricks before taking over the program as head coach a few years later.
After helping out with track and field and basketball, Landers gave up volleyball and track after Malcolm Montgomery stepped away from the girls basketball program in 2017.
“As a colleague, he was excellent to work with,” Gallatin boys basketball coach Bobby Luna said. “He was good at helping kids understand the things they needed to do to be successful.”
Assistant coach Greta Parker has been with Landers since he took over as the girls basketball head coach in 2017. She echoed Luna’s sentiments, adding that Landers’ knack for connecting with kids was incredible to see.
“I continue to be amazed at how good he was at reaching kids that were deemed unreachable,” she said. “He loved the word opportunity because I think that is how his soul worked. He always wanted to give one more opportunity to be successful.”
On the door to Landers’ office hangs a sheet of paper for students to sign. This year, senior Rachel Allen decided not to play basketball. Landers still viewed her as family even though she was no longer part of the team, speaking volumes about who he was as a coach, teacher and friend.
“You have left a forever impression on me,” she wrote. “I will never forget what you said in our meeting. Thank you for mentioning what is best for me, ALWAYS; much love, Rachel Allen.”
When Jerry and Nancy lived in East Tennessee serving at Tri-Cities Christian School, the two hosted a foreign exchange student from China.
Not only did the two host the student at their home, but Jerry also taught her in bible, government and economics.
“Here is a girl from a completely different walk of life than ours, and let me tell you, she tried him at first,” Nancy recalled. “I think seeing that Jerry was the same both at school and home really helped her see our life for what it truly was. She is now living back in Hong Kong, and when my son told her, it just broke her. Jerry was a huge part of who she is today.”
“Do what we can with what we have where we are”
In his office, Jerry’s trophies sit in a box; his desk is filled with papers, his wall features two pictures — both from grandson Noah, the apple to his eye. His shelf is filled with books, and a picture frame on his desk lets you know he’s never far away.
“When tomorrow starts without me, don’t think we’re far apart; remember when you think of me, I’m right here in your heart,” it says.
Greta Parker, Reggie Crenshaw and Jeff Tarkington, Jerry’s assistants these last several years, have been asked to keep their team and community going.
“This will hurt for a long time, but we are willing to do what he wanted us to do, which is figure it out from here,” Parker said. “We had practice Sunday because I wanted those girls to understand they are not alone. From 2-4 p.m., we had 35 people show up to our practice to support us, and I can’t thank them enough because I didn’t want our girls to walk into an empty gym. The support from the community is a true testament to who we are.”
Tarkington watched Jerry from his seat on the bench since Tarkington’s coaching days at Rucker-Stewart.
The two shared more than a passion for basketball; they shared a passion for teaching and leading.
“Our relationship was so much more than basketball,” he said. “I think what I will miss the most is our daily talks about our families, girls on the team, school, really anything. I will miss growing and becoming a better person because of him.
“What I will try to carry on is seeing the positive in everything, in everyone, because that’s what Jerry did,” Tarkington continued. “I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone as nice as coach Landers. We will miss him greatly.”
Resting on God’s promises
Nothing that’s said can heal, but one thing Nancy and the rest of her family rest on is God’s promises.
“I don’t understand, but I rest on God having a plan and that Jerry lived like God wanted him,” Nancy said. “It’s just so sad that it has stopped, but our thoughts and ways are not God’s thoughts and ways. Jerry lived his life right, and Dr. Becker said it best. He loved his God, he loved his family, and he loved Gallatin. People are eternal, and Jerry lived his life to pour into people.”
Jerry is survived by his four children, Katie Landers, Joshua Landers, Laurie Landers, Jenna Landers, and his grandson Noah.
Visitation will be held at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15 with funeral services to follow.
“If we saw a need, we would pray about it,” Nancy said. “God always met our needs and has wowed with how little we had that went so far. Blessing after blessing, God has provided for us. The more we give away the more would come our way.”
Gallatin High School and several surrounding schools will support Jerry Landers by having their students and fans wear Nashville Predators gear against Hunters Lane Tuesday night.
“Wilson Central’s athletic director David Jennings called me and asked me what I thought of the idea, and I loved it,” Lebanon coach Cory Barrett said of honoring Landers by having students wear Preds gear. “Basketball is a game of competition, but the relationships you build mean more than the game. Lebanon and Gallatin are longtime rivals, and we both wanted to win when we played, but Jerry was a friend of mine and enjoyed laughing and cutting up with. We always made sure to support each other.”
The Predators were Jerry’s favorite hockey team. Jerry always supported his team on the ice; whether traveling to Dallas for the Winter Classic or staying up past midnight for a playoff game.
Gallatin assistant principal Johnnie Anderson has known Landers for eight years. He said people like Jerry don’t come around too often, and he hopes the girls on the team and the students in the halls understand just how great of an influence he was.
“The kids at Gallatin High School met one of the best men they will ever meet, and I don’t think they even know it,” he said. “I will remember Jerry for being the most sincere, kind man I’ve ever met in athletics. Jerry loved his players, and his players loved him.”