There was a time, way back in the late 1970s, maybe 1980, when longtime coach Dan Conlin decided he had to get out of high school athletics. It wasn’t a matter of wanting to leave. It really was a matter of having to leave — for his own good.
“I was at Brother Martin and was the head baseball coach there and the assistant football coach,” he said. “In baseball, I had just taken over a program that didn’t have many wins. My first year, I think we won 14 games. The next year, I think we finished 16-5. We beat Jesuit, the state champs, twice, but we got knocked out of the playoffs.
“My health was good, I thought, but my stomach was killing me all the time. ... The doctor asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I was a teacher and a coach. He said, ‘Man, you better find something else because you have one ulcer already and you’re working on another one.’ ”
So, for the next eight years, Conlin, who began coaching at Cor Jesu (a precursor of what would become Brother Martin) in 1966, was out of the prep scene. He decided to take a job in the oil industry instead. Although he enjoyed the time away, preps called to him again in the late 1980s when he took a job as an assistant coach at Mandeville. Then, when Fontainebleau opened its doors across town in 1994, he was named the school’s first football coach.
Nineteen years later, Conlin said he’s moving along once again.
Conlin, the school’s first football coach, its current athletic director and an unmistakable force in all things athletic at Fontainebleau, will retire at the end of the school year. With him will go more than five decades of coaching experience and the wisdom that comes with it.
At 68, he said it’s time to step down, not because of health issues, but because it’s simply “time.”
“It’s been a good ride here,” Conlin said. “I’ve always enjoyed this place, especially since (Principal Johnny Vitrano) has been here.”
Vitrano was at Brother Martin as basketball coach when Conlin was working there. So was his brother, Bobby Conlin, who helped coach the Crusaders to an historic state championship in 1971 against Catholic League rival St. Augustine. Along with brothers Bobby and Mike, both deceased, the Conlins combined to coach more than 100 years of high school football in Louisiana.
“Dan Conlin has been instrumental to Fontainebleau’s success,” Vitrano said. “He brought experience and confidence to the program and to the school. ... His depth of knowledge is invaluable. And he has a sense of humor. ... He’s forgotten more football than most of these young guys today think they know, probably. He’ll be missed.”
Conlin said after his time as a student at Southeastern Louisiana University, his mother urged him to go to law school. His father, however, was happy to have three boys enjoying success on the field.
“We all could have been brain surgeons and he wouldn’t have been any prouder,” Conlin said.
Conlin arrived at Fontainebleau in 1994 as the head football and head baseball coach. He didn’t get to coach the baseball team that year, however, when he had to miss time to have open heart surgery.
Two months later, he was back on the field readying the football team during spring practice, and in 1996, the football team won six games. There were a couple of lean years ahead for the team, but Conlin never lost faith in what the football program could be. After all, he had been playing without the benefit of seniors during Fontainebleau’s formative years.
Today, Fontainebleau is one of the largest schools in the state and the football team made a trip to the state semifinals a few years ago. Conlin became the school’s athletic director after seven seasons, turning the football program over to others.
The school has seen much success in a number of sports, including several state championships, since his term as athletic director began. Current boys basketball coach Barry Doston will assume the duties of Fontainebleau A.D. upon Conlin’s retirement at the end of the school year.
One thing Conlin prides himself on most is the number of young athletes he’s been able to mentor on the field, and elsewhere. In addition to coaching football, baseball and being A.D., he’s also been the school’s tennis and golf moderator. He has worked as an assistant with the football team the past few seasons, as well, at the request of current coach Mike Materne. Materne was a starting lineman on a Conlin-coached squad back in 1970 at Brother Martin.
“I’ve made the offer to Mike,” Conlin said. “If he gets in a bind next year and needs me, I’ll come back as a volunteer coach.”
Conlin plans to remain on the Northshore during his retirement, though he is looking to downsize into a smaller home. The New Orleans native hopes to spend more time with his longtime wife, Ellen, their children and grandchildren.
But he’ll always have a soft spot for Fontainebleau.
“To me, there’s nothing in the world like Friday night when you throw the lights on,” he said. “The smell of the grass, all of it. It’s always been great. I think it’s kept me young. I’ll miss the kids and I’ll miss the coaches. You make a bond.
“This place is like my baby. I’ve seen it from the bottom up. It will always be special to me.”