Otis Washington and Avery Johnson took different paths to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.
Washington’s coaching legacy included three state high school football championships, along with coaching stints at Southern University and LSU, helping to integrate the Tigers coaching staff.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s journey was highlighted by an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs and NBA Coach of Year honors with the Dallas Mavericks.
Their sports accolades so different. Yet their in-state sports immortality is aligned with a common denominator known through throughout Louisiana academic and athletic circles: St. Augustine.
So it came as no surprise Thursday afternoon that many of their friends and family, former players, teammates and coaches packed into the school gym to celebrate their achievements.
“We didn’t just excel here,” said Oyd Craddock, president and CEO of St. Augustine, as well as a 1976 graduate. “We excelled against the odds.”
Coupled with bleachers packed with students, the event felt like an athletic reunion, with many of the school’s legendary lettermen in attendance — from former Saints kick returner Tyrone Hughes to former standout player/coach Tony Biagas.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” said Johnson’s sister, Andrea. “He’s humbled by this opportunity to be honored. Of course, St. Aug is where he got his foundation (for success). And I’m so excited that they thought to do something like this for him and coach Washington.”
According to the Hall of Fame, the Washington/Johnson induction marks the first time this century that a school has sent two members of its community to Natchitoches for enshrinement.
Washington was praised as an innovator, perhaps one of the first coaches on any level to use what became the West Coast offense, which is still popular in the NFL. His teams passed when “3 yards and a cloud of dust” was the norm in the Catholic League. But that explains part of the reason why Washington’s teams won 87 of their games en route to seven district titles.
“I figured I would come here, stay a year and get the heck out,” said Washington a Selma, Alabama, native who played on Xavier University’s last football team before becoming an assistant coach and later, head coach of the Purple Knights.
Johnson was recently named head coach of the University of Alabama basketball team, his first jump into college coaching.
He will need patience to help the Tide win in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Athletic Conference, but patience explains Johnson’s story. Or stubbornness. Probably both.
Despite leading St. Augustine to an undefeated record and state title, colleges steered clear of Johnson. So he went to a junior college and later transferred to Southern where he led the NCAA twice in assists.
Pro basketball was slow to accept him, starting Johnson’s pro journey from the Palm Beach Stingrays of the USBL to the NBA’s Seattle, Denver, San Antonio, Houston and Golden State franchises. His third stint in San Antonio (1994-2001) became his best, where his signature shot, a baseline jumper, clinched the Spurs’ 1999 NBA championship.
Later, Johnson coached Dallas to the 2006 NBA Finals.