Sonny Jackson, the winningest football coach in Nicholls State history and a prominent high school coach locally at Central High in 1970s, died Saturday at his home in Baton Rouge. He was 82.
Jackson left Central to become an assistant coach at Northeast Louisiana University, now the University of Louisiana at Monroe, in 1979. He then served as head coach at Nicholls from 1981-86, compiling a record of 39-28-1. Current Nicholls coach Tim Rebowe has 38 wins.
“Sonny had a different way of looking at things and he did things his way. What we did in the passing game in the 1980s is what people do today,” said Don Rodrigue, one of Jackson’s assistant coaches at Nicholls. “He hired a bunch of high school coaches and he trusted us. No one would do that today.
“Somebody asked Sonny once why he hired us and he said it was because high school coaches knew the players and coaches in Louisiana better than anybody and. He wanted Louisiana players.”
Many of the high school coaches Jackson hired at Nicholls came from the Baton Rouge area. Kenny Guillot, who later led Parkview Baptist to four LHSAA titles, was hired from Woodlawn. Joe Clark (East Ascension), Ron Brown (McKinley), Barrett Murphy (Belaire) and Johnny Nagle (Central) also came from Baton Rouge area schools.
Clark, the team’s offensive coordinator, died at his Lafourche Parish home last month. Guillot passed away in April.
Jackson was a former Nicholls baseball player. His son, Hud, played quarterback at McNeese and is now the head football coach at Arkansas Monticello and previously coach at Morgan City’s Central Catholic High.
Jackson’s Nicholls teams had winning seasons from 1984-86. That run included a 10-2 record, a Gulf Star Conference title and the school’s first berth in the NCAA’s I-AA playoffs in 1986. Jackson went on to coach at McNeese from 1987-89 and had an overall college record of 52-48-1.
“Words cannot describe the love and respect I have for Sonny,” Brown, most recently an assistant principal at Dutchtown High, said. “When I got the call telling me he had passed this morning … I was in shock.
“I had talked to him on the phone a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about the years at Nicholls. It was a heckuva ride.”
At Central, Jackson coached future LSU quarterback and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. Receiver Mark Carrier, who went on to star with the Tampa Bay Bucs, helped lead Nicholls’ 1986 team and is now a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“He (Jackson) gave me a chance to play college football when no one else would,” said former Nicholls quarterback Keith Menard, now the head coach at Assumption High. “But once I got on campus he became much more than a coach. He has been a special mentor throughout my life.”