Murrell “Boots” Garland, a former LSU track and field coach and longtime coach at five area high schools, died Monday at the age of 82.
A Haughton native, Garland coached the Tigers in 1982 and spent another 10 years during two stints at the school as an assistant under three head coaches: Joe May, Bill McClure and Billy Maxwell.
Garland, a gregarious and witty character, was more than a track coach, serving on the football and basketball staffs at some of his high school stops.
He coached and taught at University High, where he was inducted into the athletic Hall of Fame, as well as Baton Rouge High, Istrouma, Baker, Parkview Baptist and Bossier.
“He was a man for many ages, and he leaves behind quite a legacy here in Baton Rouge,” Catholic High coach Pete Boudreaux said. “He was passionate about track and field. He loved to teach kids how to run, and it literally was his life.
“The biggest testimony to what Boots accomplished is the fact that he coached the children and the grandchildren of a lot of people he coached. He was like the Pied Piper around kids, and he had such a sense of humor that everybody loved him.”
A 1960 LSU graduate and a U.S. Army veteran, Garland coached Baton Rouge High to the 1969 state track title in Class 3A — which was then the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s highest classification.
He also was an assistant on the BRHS basketball team that won the 1968 Class 3A state title under coach E.W. Foy.
In addition, Garland was a renowned speed coach who conducted youth clinics and worked with the LSU baseball team under Skip Bertman to help players improve their agility and base-running speed.
Garland was a speed consultant for the Dallas Cowboys in the mid-1970s and worked in spring training with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 1976, Garland was the spring-training roommate of Tommy Lasorda, then the third-base coach for Dodgers manager Walter Alston.
At LSU, Garland worked for four seasons under May and five under McClure. Garland then became the Tigers head coach when McClure retired after the 1981 season.
Garland led the team in 1982 but resigned after that season. He remained on staff as an assistant when Maxwell took over, then left LSU for good because he said he couldn’t make the commitment needed for the program to be successful.
Sam Seemes, now the CEO of the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, worked alongside Garland for seven seasons at LSU.
“One of Boots’ great traits as a coach was that he took a personal interest in the athletes he worked with,” Seemes said. “At the end of the day, that was probably more important to him than anything else.”
In an interview with The Advocate after making the decision to leave, Garland said, “I have no axe to grind. … LSU has been very good to me.”
A month later, Garland took over the fledgling track program at Parkview Baptist.
In his tenure as a head coach and assistant at LSU, Garland coached 11 All-Americans.
“He did a lot of things, but the one thing he did was he got married 37 years ago,” longtime friend Pat Flanagan said. “Boots could have searched the world over and couldn’t have found a better family.
“JoAnne had four daughters (from a previous marriage). That was the best thing he ever did.”
“He was a loving man, and he was a good father to my children,” JoAnne Garland said Monday. “He was a confirmed bachelor, and he had this great idea that you didn’t have to be married to be happy. But we had 37 wonderful, wonderful years together.”
Flanagan said Garland, who had congestive heart failure for 12 years, died peacefully at his Baton Rouge home.
“That was important to him.” Flanagan said.
In addition to his wife, Garland is survived by stepdaughters Alison Edmonson, Dana Sutton, Mitzi Barber and Laura Murray, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Visitation is set for 10 a.m. Friday at First Presbyterian Church, 763 North Blvd., Baton Rouge. with services at noon. Burial will be at Resthaven Gardens of Memory on Jefferson Highway.
Advocate sportswriter Robin Fambroughcontributed to this report.