Richard Oliver knew what he was stepping into when he accepted the job as football coaching job at McKinley High.
Oliver knew the program had just gone through what some described as a “death penalty” after running afoul of LHSAA rules. The entire coaching staff was suspended for one year. Fines and a one-year playoff ban in all sports was issued.
Still, he was eager to return home after spending a year coaching in Americus, Georgia.
Oliver admits he had concerns as McKinley’s program was reeling and the number of athletes interested in playing football was dwindling.
Now that his first season is coming to a close, Oliver said he is optimistic he can turn the program around. The Panthers stand 1-8 overall and 0-4 in District 5-5A, with their lone win coming against Istrouma.
In an effort to stay positive, Oliver points out the Panthers recently played East Ascension to a 14-14 tie after halftime. Problem was, the Panthers still fell 40-14.
In a sport where close losses are given little cache, Oliver had no reservation about describing that as a “moral victory.”
“You pull out anything positive that you can,” Oliver said, noting the Panthers still have a shot at playing in the postseason by virtue of their status in Division I Select.
“It’s been hard on the kids. The seniors have had three or four coaches with different personalities, styles, techniques and schemes to learn,” Oliver said.
He describes a season of facing top-ranked teams with student populations that far exceed McKinley’s. One recent loss came against a school that had 700 more students.
Also completing a challenging first season at the helm is Broadmoor's Cyril Crutchfield. The Bucs are 2-7 and 1-3 in District 7-4A with their lone league win coming against Belaire.
Crutchfield, who won state titles at South Plaquemines, said getting players to develop faith in his process is paramount in turning the Bucs’ ship around.
“We’re a long way off from where we need to be,” he said, noting that the team lost 19 starters from a year ago. “It’s a work in progress and there are growing pains, but we’ve come a long way from where we started.”
Broadmoor, which had been to the playoffs just twice in the past 16 years, faced a daunting predistrict schedule that featured Walker, Central and Donaldsonville — all designed to give the Bucs an edge when facing lower-tier competition.
Crutchfield said he is working with his squad on the mental aspects of the game, such as developing a winning attitude and learning how to finish strong.
“We’re trying to build a program we can be proud of, but that takes time,” he said. “You have to keep plugging away even when things aren't going your way.”
As far as convincing athletes to join the program, Crutchfield said the best selling point is to field a winning team, which will attract more interest.
“When you win, people become interested. As coaches, we’re life teachers, and football teaches you life lessons,” he said. “You learn that the same highs and lows you experience on the football field, you experience in life.”