Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook going for 300th victory _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Head coach of the Notre Dame Pioneers, Lewis Cook talks to offensive lineman Dillan Gilbert during practice on Wednesday afternoon.

CROWLEY — If they all turned out like his first season, Notre Dame football coach Lewis Cook might have never found himself in the position he will be in Thursday night.

In 1977 at Rayne High, Cook’s Wolves won just two games and missed the playoffs — the only time Cook has missed the postseason in his high school career.

Looking back as he attempts to win the vaunted No. 300 against Breaux Bridge on Thursday, Cook said he was already thinking he may have to find another career path — since this coaching thing wasn’t working out.

“I certainly never set out to win 300,” the 63-year-old Cook said. “A lot of people are telling me there are only six people to do it. That is because a lot of good coaches that could have easily gotten there got out early. I’ve just been fortunate enough to have schools that allowed me to stick around.”

Three schools — Rayne, Crowley High and Notre Dame — have contributed to the 299 wins on Cook’s résumé. Three state championships — 1989 at Crowley, 2000 and 2009 at Notre Dame — are the crown jewels for one of the most storied high school coaches in the Acadiana area.

Coincidentally, the most memorable wins in his illustrious career are not those state championship victories, Cook said. They are the wins that got them to the final.

“I remember beating Broadmoor to get Crowley to the first state championship game in 1989,” Cook recalled. “I remember that semifinal win at Notre Dame in 2000, coincidentally against Breaux Bridge.

“My son, Jeff, was the quarterback of that team. The state championships were great, and we celebrated those very much, but for some reason, getting there is what sticks in my head.”

Cook said his dreams were to become a head coach in high school and a college coach. He got both opportunities as he spent eight years on the sidelines at Louisiana-Lafayette. Cook recalled writing an essay at an early age — sixth grade to be exact — stating his aspirations to be involved in athletics.

“It’s just something I always wanted to do,” Cook said. “I wanted to be involved with sports, and I wanted to coach my kids. I’ve had the opportunity to do that, and it’s been a fun ride.”

Breaux Bridge coach Paul Broussard — the man who will stand across the sidelines from Cook on Thursday night — understandably said he hoped Cook would not get No. 300 this week. He said, however, that when Cook does get the milestone victory, it couldn’t happen to a better person.

“He is a tremendous coach and an even better man,” Broussard said. “I don’t want it to be at my expense, but it will happen. I’ve called his office many times over the years just to talk coaching or talk football. He has meant so much to this area’s athletes and coaches.”

Cook said it would only be fitting that he play for No. 300 against Breaux Bridge, a team he has so many epic battles with over the years. Just last year, the Pios and Tigers played to a hard-fought 3-0 Notre Dame victory. Cook said the win is certainly not a foregone conclusion.

“I am getting lots of old players and old friends telling me they are going to be there for the game to see me win 300,” Cook said.

“I keep telling them they want to get tickets to the next few games. Breaux Bridge is going to be tough. Teurlings is going to be tough. It might be awhile.”

The camaraderie surrounding football is what Cook said keeps him coming back every year. For him, teaching players and talking football with fellow coaches is what it is all about.

“I love the games; don’t get me wrong,” Cook said. “But if you told me I couldn’t go to the games Friday night, I’d say fine, but can I come back to work Saturday? Can I teach the kids and talk football with the coaches? Can I be in those meeting rooms and spend time with the coaches?

“As long as I can have that, everything would be fine.”