Each year the list of Louisiana high school football coaches with the most wins changes a little. Names join the group of coaches who have won at least 200 games at Louisiana schools. Positions in the standings shift too.
As the 2019 season begins, some things remain the same, like J.T. Curtis of John Curtis, who tops the list with 583 wins. St. Thomas More’s Hightower is next at 431. Notre Dame’s Lewis Cook is next among active coaches at 337 wins.
As the wins list continues to evolve, the state of high school coaching continues to be a mixed bag of the good and bad. Advances in technology save time. Instead of driving across the state to swap films or VHS tapes, a press of a button is all it takes to send game footage to an opposing coach.
Hot button topics remain for coaches. Just a few coaches have joined the all-time wins in recent years. Tommy Minton of Central Catholic-Morgan City joined the group last year. The closest local coach, Central’s Sid Edwards, is 39 wins away at 161.
“You’ve got several factors in play. Guys like J.T., Jim Hightower and Lewis Cook became head coaches at young ages and have been successful throughout their careers,” LHSCA Director Eric Held said. “The fact is, fewer people are going into coaching and those who do won’t all stay. Back when I was playing 30 years ago you had schools with six or seven varsity coaches and six or seven (junior varsity) coaches. That doesn’t happen now.”
Held was the head coach at St. Michael before serving as an assistant at Catholic for several years before taking the LHSCA post last spring. Economics, demographics and the ever-changing school dynamics are among the reasons the coaching ranks have diminished.
“My first year was 1991 and I was fortunate to be an assistant coach to Roman Bates at Capitol,” Tara head coach Terry Washington said. “Coach Bates taught us so much about how to coach, when to delegate and about handling people.
“At Capitol, coach Bates was like the CEO. He was the constant and ran his program through administration changes, losing seasons, winning seasons and whatever else happened. You don’t have coaches like him who stay at one school for 30-something years. That used to be a norm."
Washington said emphasis/pressure brought on by ever-growing academic accountability standards and other factors, including the pressure to win during a short time span, make a difference.
Held has worked with college students who love coaching but opt for a more lucrative career field. A lack of instant career advancement can factor in too.
“So many kids come in expecting to play right away and that’s tough because it is usually a two to three-year process for all but a few,” Dutchtown coach Guy Mistretta said. “What you see in the kids also happens with young coaches. Some, but not all, come in expecting to call plays right away. When that doesn’t happen they move to other schools and some do leave coaching, which is unfortunate.”
St. James coach Robert Valdez said many young coaches come in unprepared for certain facets of the job, like field maintenance or how to deal with a disgruntled player/parent.
“Sometimes, I think we need a class on the things you don’t learn in classes,” Valdez said. “I coach because it is what I love to do … something that is part of me. It is a passion and you need that."
Held sees a mentoring program for young coaches in all sports as one potential solution. A program that would help identify teens/college students interested in a coaching at a grass-roots level is another option.
“We need to do something to draw more people into coaching,” Held said. “And we need to keep them.”