Nearly nine months ago, Livonia’s first-year football coach Guy Mistretta went about the delicate process of assembling his coaching staff.
With prior experience in the art of melding the right philosophies with an adequate amount of experience and youthful vigor, Mistretta’s mission statement was detectable during the interview process.
The conversation for each candidate could last the length of a football game before Mistretta cracked the lid on football-related topics because he was more interested in separating the person from the coach with intangibles that would invariably determine a place on his staff.
“We’ll talk about family, relationships and their reasons for coaching,” Mistretta said. “I want to make sure we’ve got guys putting the kids first.”
Fast forward to this week’s preparations as No. 1 Livonia (13-0) returns to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Saturday to meet No. 3 Amite (12-2) for the Class 3A state championship at noon.
Not only did the Wildcats fall 33-27 in overtime to Union Parish in their first state title game appearance, but they also lost head coach David Brewerton to Zachary after revitalizing the Pointe Coupee Parish program.
Mistretta’s track record, which now includes a 99-35 career record , featured a total of three state championships while at Redemptorist, the third coming in his first year as a head coach in 2005.
With the nucleus of the school’s most successful team returning, coupled with the arrival of talented players from shuttered Pointe Coupee Central, Mistretta went about the task of piecing together a staff that could push the Wildcats a step further.
Mistretta retained five assistants with Bo Burson and Adam Chrestman on defense to go along with Mike Todd, Dexter Thurber and Lance Jarreau on offense/special teams.
The changes came with two new coordinators in Marc Brown on offense and Chuck Guidry on defense, Deuce Harrison (running backs/strength and conditioning), Richard Morales (defensive line) and Rex Williams (running backs).
“It’s a really good mix from the experience factor and age,” Mistretta said. “You don’t know if it’s the right decisions until you get everybody together. It’s just impossible to know that. A lot of it is going on gut instinct when you meet them and just hoping for the best.”
Burson, Todd, Harrison and Morales all brought the unique quality of having been head coaches before, while all the aforementioned quartet except Todd had also served as defensive coordinators.
However, when it came to formulating schemes on both sides of the ball, everyone was in agreement Livonia would continue operating its no-huddle, spread attack on offense and four-man front on defense with some small variations.
Despite a new head coach and five new assistants a year removed from reaching the pinnacle of the sport, the players were able to thrive in an atmosphere rooted in familiarity, which fostered another ultra-successful season.
“The biggest thing was the coaches still here were very professional,” Mistretta said. “They went to the Dome last year, so why in the heck are we changing anything? But I still had to put my mark on the program. They could have easily bucked it and caused waves. You worry about those things coming in.”
Aside from the existing staff members, Mistretta continually worked at filling out his staff through the spring, but it wasn’t until the summer when his entire staff, including special assistant Mark Williams, was able to finally convene for the first time.
They pushed the members of this year’s Livonia team through its paces in the weight room and the hot summer months of conditioning, setting the stage for what’s evolved into a season of perfection and the validation of a staff trying to make a difference.
“You look at a family with parents that have a great relationship and get along,” Mistretta said. “That family’s a whole lot closer. As a staff, we have our different views, but I’ve been so fortunate that everyone’s bought into the plan each week and the kids have taken that leadership and run with it.”