James Waguespack

Longtime high school football coach James Waguespack, who coached in the Acadiana area at Cecilia and Beau Chene, was inducted into the LHSAA Hall of Fame on Tuesday in Baton Rouge.

UPDATEDue to weather concerns, the first of two visitations for James Waguespack has been to Thursday from 4-8 p.m. at Pellerin Funeral Home in Cecilia. It includes a rosary at 6 p.m. On Friday, visitation will continue from 8-11 a.m. at St. Philip Catholic Church in Vacherie, followed by a funeral. Waguespack will be laid to rest immediately after at St. Philip Catholic Church Cemetery.

Greg Waguespack never played football for his father, and his dad never talked about his job at home.

So it makes perfect sense that once Greg started coaching under James “Jimmy” Waguespack at Cecilia in 1999, they spent Sundays by the water.

“How many people can say they went fishing with their boss after spending six days a week coaching with him?” said Greg, one of Jimmy’s five children. “On the seventh day, when you’re off, you go to church and then you go fishing, and you go with your boss.”

Jimmy was as South Louisiana as they come, a Vacherie native who loved his family, fishing and football. But he was no ordinary football coach. In fact, he’s among the best high school football coaches the state has ever seen.

Only Jimmy has led two different teams — St. James in 1979 and Cecilia in 1995 — to undefeated championship seasons. The first title, a 14-8 win against Wossman, was the first overtime game in state championship game history.

Over 32 years at St. James, Cecilia and Beau Chene, he posted a 231-145 career record, which puts him among the top 30 all-time among state high school football coaches. He was named district coach of the year 10 times and the Class 3A Coach of the Year twice. In April, he was inducted into the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame.

He was also a head of his time in the 1970s, utilizing the passing game much more than his peers in the state.

“I don’t think he gets enough credit for being kind of a cutting-edge coach with regards to the passing game,” said Boo Schexnayder, who played for Jimmy at St. James from 1975-78. “When I was playing in high school, my sophomore year, we were throwing for 200, 300, 400 yards a game, and that was long before we had all of these spread offenses. He was quite an innovator in that regard.”

Jimmy was not a physically imposing man — at only about 130 pounds, he earned All-South honors as a senior running back at St. James during their 1959 championship season — but he cast a wide shadow. It’s a shadow those that knew him recalled so fondly after he suffered a stroke Sunday evening and died Monday afternoon at the age of 76.

He was a titan in his field who was known for his intelligence, preparation and genuine care for his players. He was a beloved teacher, too.

“It wasn’t just about football,” said Monica Waguespack, his wife of 36 years. “It was his love for the kids. Many times he would bring them home. He would feed them. It was just his love of football and the kids. He has touched many lives; I know he has.”

Greg, who coached under Jimmy at Beau Chene until his retirement in 2012, treasures his dad’s ability to teach him how to teach the game.

“You could know everything about football. You could be the best coach with X’s and O’s,” said Greg, now a coach at Erath Middle School. “But if can’t teach it to the kids so that he can understand why he’s doing it, then you were a failure.”

One of those lives he’s touched is Allen Hymel. Hymel was an assistant coach at St. James when Jimmy was a player and became his defensive coordinator the entire time (1970-81) Jimmy was the Wildcats’ head coach. Greg later became Hymel’s quarterback after Hymel took over for Jimmy at St. James.

Hymel, 82, is only six years old than Jimmy, but he considered him to be a son. Hymel raved about Jimmy’s athletic ability — he also played basketball and baseball and ran track — and his studiousness.

Hymel guesses Jimmy had at least 80 supporters, people from all three of his coaching stops, show up for his hall of fame induction.

“He was well-liked everywhere he went,” Allen said.

What’s so ironic about the two teams that Jimmy led to state championships were they weren’t necessarily the most talented he coached. He often got the most out of his players

“He was a person who could take a group of people and make them a team. Not a collection of players, but he could build them into a team,” said Schexnayder, now the strength coach for the LSU track and field team. “He understood where people could contribute. He understood roles for his players. I think he was one of the first to really understand that it’s really more about a role than a position.”

The best example of that is the 1995 Cecilia team, which beat Karr 12-9 in the Superdome. Most didn’t expect much out of the Bulldogs after two-way standout Jamaican Dartez graduated. The window for the school’s first and only state title seemed to have closed after finishing as the runner-up in 1992 and 1993 and losing in the semifinals in 1994.

And then Cecilia did the unthinkable, beating the Nos 3, 2 and 1 teams to win the title.

“When it came time for my senior year, we were not the team that people were expecting to be the undefeated state champions,” said Parker Alleman, a Bulldogs offensive linemen who played 59 out of a possible 60 games under Jimmy. “We worked harder. We didn’t have a ton of superstar names when the year started, so we didn’t quite get the respect other teams did. He never let us believe that we weren’t going to be a state championship team.”

Email James Bewers at jbewers@theadvocate.com