At age 68, J.T. Curtis isn’t slowing down.
But maybe he’s mellowing.
At least that’s the view of Lydia Curtis. And as his wife of 47 years, she should know.
“I think he’s gotten softer on judging kids, maybe cutting them a little more slack,” said the person who says she’s missed only a handful of the 604 John Curtis football games since that dismal 0-10 season of 1969. “He knows it’s different for teenagers now and he’s kind of going with the flow.
“He still has that same passion for football though.”
It’s that passion — not necessarily for winning (although 560 football victories, second most of any coach in U.S. history, and 26 state titles at John Curtis, No. 1 in that category, are proof that that matters, too) but just for the joy of coaching that led to Curtis being inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame on Thursday at the New Orleans Marriott.
“When he comes to the football side of it, being on the field becomes his outlet from the day-to-day pressure of running the school,” said Johnny Curtis, who along with his brother, Jeff, work with their father as assistant coaches at the River Ridge school founded by their grandfather and who are among some 30 relatives, including his mother, Merle, still involved at age 88, who make John Curtis a true family business. “He loves to get out on that football field, and down in the trenches with you.
“His attention to detail is better than ever. He delegates, but he will always be the manager, always.”
And there’s a lot to manage.
Besides the school, which, contrary to some opinions, consists of more than a football team, there are some 700 students in grades K-12.
Since the death of John Curtis Sr. a few years ago, J.T. serves as headmaster of the entire operation.
And there’s Friday Night Football, the WGNO-TV staple Curtis will be co-hosting for the 24th year this fall.
After Friday night games, J.T. usually gets to the studios with the help of a police escort, goes over his script until the 11:05 p.m. airtime, does the show for an hour and then goes out to eat (Hooray for the Waffle House!) for a couple of hours while preparing the next week’s practice plan.
“I’m guessing he’s been going non-stop since about 6 a.m.,” said Ed Daniels, Curtis’ co-host of the show. “So he has a pretty good energy level.
“I think his father was the only other person I’ve seen who enjoyed working like that, and he did it until his mid-80s. What gets me is that he has less gray hair than I do.”
Then there are the numerous clinics and other speaking engagements J.T. makes, both around the state and nationally. Back when the All-Star Game was a weeklong obligation, many coaches opted out, preferring a week of summer vacation. J.T. was there too many times to count.
“I’d be lying if I said I sometimes don’t feel spread too thin,” he said. “My wife says I don’t turn people down enough.”
Those appearances, Daniels said, plus the compliments he hands out to other teams on the TV show, in many cases, are for the benefit of those “he knows have said terrible things about him behind his back, but he’s nice to them anyway.”
Neither does J.T. ever reject a media request. And the next time he cuts an interview short will be the first one.
But if that wasn’t enough, four years ago, J.T. began his own ministry, Coliseum Place Baptist Church.
“If you leave yourself open to the direction God gives you, you’ve got to be prepared to go,” he said. “I had no intention of ever doing that, but it’s where God led us.
“But it’s growing, and we’re meeting the needs of some people. That’s what it’s about.”
It’s also, obviously, very much about family, which now includes 10 grandchildren, all of whom were on hand Thursday.
And that, J.T. said, is where he really derives his drive.
“All through life, support of family is vital, because you never know when difficult times are coming,” he said. “And as we’ve gone through the years, we’ve known they were always there.
“I’ve been so blessed that all of them wanted to be part of this, and that they understand the philosophy and mission of our school.”
Friday begins a holiday weekend. But come Monday, J.T. will be back at work.
“It is taxing sometimes,” he said “But God has blessed me with a way to make a contribution to others, and I do everything I can to meet those needs.
“But I’ve got good health and my energy level’s high. I’m going to keep going.”