Recdemptorist High School coach Terence Williams has been on both sides of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s football fence.
Before taking over at the Class 2A Catholic school last year, Williams’ other recent head coaching jobs were at public schools, Leesville and Donaldsonville.
As outgoing president of the Louisiana High School Coaches Association, Williams seeks some closure between the public and private school factions as this week’s LHSCA Coaches Clinic begins Tuesday at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge.
Williams isn’t sure what form that closure will take. But he is eager to see what happens when the clinic opens at 9 a.m. Tuesday with two 50-minute discussions for football coaches entitled, “The Future of Louisiana Football.”
“What we’re hoping for is some honest discussion, and hopefully come up with some solutions,” Williams said. “We have issues that caused the split we have now. The question is, where do we go from here? Can we find some common ground?
“I’ve been on both sides of this. I’m still the same guy I was when I coached at Donaldsonville. But people see me differently now. We need to look at that, look at the problems we have and see what we can do about them.”
Two respected former high school coaches, Charles Baglio and Rick Gaille, will serve as moderators for the discussions that are sponsored by the Louisiana Football Coaches Association. No one from the LHSAA will be involved. Media will not be allowed to attend.
“We want people to be able to speak freely,” Williams said. “We don’t want them to be worried that something they say will come out in the media or that it would get back to a principal or someone else who might not like what they say.
“We need to have some honest dialog that can hopefully bring people back together and offer some solutions. The stakes are high for all of us. In Louisiana, football is the sport that drives so many things, including other sports. It’s about the future of football and the LHSAA.”
Williams said the LHSCA and LFCA believe Baglio and Gaille will be able to keep discussions on track. The LHSAA’s executive committee issued a position statement last month saying it was against any additional split of sports along select/nonselect school lines. Whether the football coaches can do likewise is a gamble.
Private schools dominate the state’s select school group that also includes some charter schools, lab schools and full magnet schools. Nonselect schools are, of course, the state’s public schools.
The LHSAA has studied what other states do to alleviate private vs. public school issues and offered some proposals based on those solutions, but none received much support in January.
Williams said part of the reason for that is the LHSAA’s special makeup. Louisiana has more private schools than most states, but not as many as larger states like Texas.
The number of private schools in Louisiana isn’t enough to provide a separate football playoff model that is comparable to the nonselect brackets. The select and nonselect championships will be held on separate weekends this fall, something made easier by the byes factored into those brackets based on the number of teams. Skeptics wonder if there are enough schools to support a separate association, should the private schools opt to pull out of the LHSAA.
Though traditional private-school powers like John Curtis and Evangel Christian usually take the brunt of criticism for winning too many titles, Williams said the issues between the schools come down to the questions of recruiting vs. marketing.
“Recruiting is an issue for private and public schools,” Williams said. “It’s an issue for public schools. You have charter schools and public schools with special programs that compete with other schools in their districts now for students.
“Public schools are guaranteed a base group of students based on their attendance zones. Private schools have to market themselves to get students because they don’t have that. If there aren’t students in the seats, you don’t have a school.”
Williams concedes that the true question is, and has always been, which students are involved. When a 5-foot-4, 130-pound student enrolls in a private school, it’s not news. But when a 6-2, 220-pound student who’s considered a prospect enrolls, it’s a bone of contention.
The fact the LHSAA’s new marquee sponsor, the Allstate Sugar Bowl, has a clause in its deal that says it will opt out if the split expands to include other sports also raises the stakes, Williams said.
“A lot of this is based in football,” Williams said. “We owe it to ourselves and the LHSAA to try and find an answer.”
LSU coach Les Miles is scheduled to speak at 11 a.m. Tuesday to help kick off the three-day clinic. A complete clinic agenda can be found at lhsaa.org.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux, Southeastern Louisiana University basketball coach Jay Ladner, LSU volleyball coach Fran Flory and two Louisiana Tech head coaches, football coach Skip Holtz and women’s basketball coach Tyler Summitt, also are among the Tuesday speakers.
Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth is scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. Wednesday. A sports medicine session regarding current laws for sports safety (Tuesday) and a questions and answer session on eight-man football (Wednesday) also are notable.