Former St. James High School coach Rick Gaille wasn’t sure what to expect when coaches met Tuesday to discuss “The Future of Football in Louisiana.”
Some dismissed the two-hour session, calling it an instance of talk and no action; Gaille and others were energized by the forum that helped open the Louisiana High School Coaches Association Coaches Clinic on Tuesday at the Crowne Plaza.
“I thought it was every bit as good as we expected it could be,” Gaille said. “We didn’t know what would happen because we’d never done anything like it. I think we got a good reception and there was some honest discussion. We ended up with a lot of people in there.”
Gaille and former Independence coach Charles Baglio were moderators for the discussion. There were ground rules. Gaille said only head coaches were allowed to speak. Coaches could speak for only five minutes and schools could only talk about their situation and not about other schools. Louisiana High School Athletic Association officials and media were excluded from the event.
Both LHSCA President Terence Williams of Redemptorist and Louisiana Football Coaches Association President Shane Smith of Franklinton pointed to a unified effort among coaches as a key component of the meeting.
There was no mission statement like the one that came from last month’s LHSAA’s executive committee meeting. That meeting ended with the committee taking a position against any additional split of sports.
Tweaking the current split playoff format from nine champions to seven and a pledging to work as a group to get rules passed that enhance football were the definitive points. Also garnering a positive buzz was the long-proposed football-by-divisions plan that would classify football separately in divisions, then reclassify schools for all other sports.
The meeting started with less than 100 coaches and grew to a total of 170 by the time it ended, according to a tally kept by the LFCA, which sponsored the discussion.
Recruiting and school transfers, along with tensions among private and public schools were expected to be a key part of the discussion along with the LHSAA’s separate playoffs for select schools, a group dominated by private schools, and nonselect or traditional public schools. Gaille said about 12 coaches spoke.
“I thought there were some good things that came out of it,” Dutchtown coach Benny Saia said. “There are things that passed the last couple of years that I don’t fully understand and I think they’ve helped push schools apart.
“For example, the parish line boundary is one thing that passed in January that I don’t understand. I don’t see what the benefit is. We discussed that and some other things, like spring practice. To me, the best thing that came out of this was us coming together as football coaches in a group.”
Franklinton’s Smith agreed.
“Moving forward, we’ve got to become more active in governing the game of football,” Smith said. “What we’ve experienced over the last couple of years with the split has splintered the voice of football coaches. We’ve got to become more unified and I think the guys who were in there recognize that.
“You can’t just look at what’s best for you and how it impacts you. This isn’t about one school or a few schools. It’s about how does it impact all schools and, more importantly, all the students who are playing football.”
While there was some discussion about reuniting select/nonselect schools once again, Williams and other noted such a move will be tough because “the genie is out of the bottle.” Instead of looking at the old model of five champions among all schools, a revamped format that would include four nonselect champions and three select champions was the option most found palatable, according to Smith.
The LHSAA crowned champions in combined classes that featured select/nonselect schools through 2012. There were nine champions under the split format last fall and there will be nine title games played over two weekends this fall.
Williams noted, “Once we were able to clear the air on some things we were able to unify. It was the first time we’ve been able to do that with a large number of coaches. Other sports have had success getting the LHSAA to pass rules because their coaches are unified. We need to do more of that.”
Central Lafourche coach Keith Menard said he was among the last speakers and said he drew upon his experience as both a public and private school coach.
“I’m old school and I would like to see it go back to the way it was with five champions,” Menard said. “I also understand why that will be tough and I know some coaches don’t have the experience of being on both sides of this. So just to talk about it was big for us as a group.”
Loranger coach Sam Messina agreed, noting that he likes the ideal of regional meetings for football coaches.
“I didn’t get to stay for it all,” Messina said. “I didn’t get to hear what the coach from Calvary Baptist (John Bachman) had to say, for example. But I thought a lot of good points came out of it.
“Right now we’re at a point where we have to come together to maintain the stability of our sport. Football is going to drive what happens in Louisiana. A lot has changed since we started this and I know I’ve reconsidered some things about it. I’ve seen it ruin friendships. There’s a tension and the more we work together we can lessen that.”