Gene Bess is enttering his 50th season as athletic director and head basketball coach at Three Rivers College. His career record entering the 2019-2020 season is (1,281-404). His winning percentage is 76% with an average of about 26 wins per year.
Gene Bess is one of the best basketball coaches to ever blow a whistle in college basketball. He has won two national junior college championships. He takes pride in preparing his players for life.
“I think every kid that spends two years here is prepared to do well at the next institution,” said Bess. “I’m proud of that and we keep monitoring them. We like to see them finish their degrees and we’ve had a high rate. What’s exciting to a coach is what they do on down the road.”
Coach Bess has led the Raiders to 17 NJCAA tournament appearances, where his career mark is 41-19. The Raiders have reached the final four 9 times while winning two national championships in 1979 and 1992. The 1979 Three Rivers team defeated Mercer Co., NJ 60-59 in overtime and the 1992 Three Rivers team beat Butler Co., KS 78-77.
Before joining Three Rivers, Bess had a very successful career at the high school level. He won 250 games over a 12 year stint at Lesterville H.S., Anniston H.S. (since merged with East Prairie), and Oran H.S. In his last year at Oran, his squad lost to Dixon 76-74 in the Missouri Class M State championship game. He served one year as an assistant coach for Bob Cradic’s 1970 3R team.
Coach Bess has been recognized as NJCAA Coach of the Year twice, Regional Coach of the Year 23 times, and MCCAC Conference Coach of the Year 19 times. He is a member of the Poplar Bluff Sports Hall of Fame, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, and the NJCAA Hall of Fame. He is the all time most winning coach in the nation. He received the inaugural Semoball lifetime achievement award in 2015 and in 2016, he received the highest award the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame gives when he achieved legend status.
Coach Bess is a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Poplar Bluff. He and his wife, Nelda, have two children, Janell Hartmann and Brian, Raiders assistant coach, and four grandchildren, Taylor Hartmann, Kolby Bess, Kiley Bess, and Bryelle Hartmann.