Otis Washington made winning football games look a whole lot easier than it actually was.

Especially during those tumultuous times in the 1970s.

Washington, whose career was highlighted by a stellar stint at St. Augustine four decades ago before moving on to LSU and Southern University, left his imprint on the field and off it before he died Friday at age 80.

"When somebody wins as much as he won, people usually don't like them because they win so much," said Ro Brown, a longtime former New Orleans sportscaster. "He is the only person I know that won that much and people still liked. You won't hear anything bad about him from anyone. You just won't."

Washington's résumé speaks for itself.

"Coach Wash," as he was known by most, led St. Aug to state championships in 1975, 1978 and 1979. In his 11 seasons at the school, he compiled a 113-17-1 record and guided the Purple Knights to 11 consecutive winning seasons and seven district titles in the ultra-competitive Catholic League.

The 1978 state championship game, a 13-7 victory over Jesuit, drew a crowd of 44,000 at the Superdome and sparked the idea of hosting the state championship games in that venue annually.

But winning a state championship didn't come easy for Washington. There was some adversity along the way.

In 1967, three years before Washington took over at St. Aug, a historic lawsuit allowed the school to compete in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association. The school had previously competed in the all-black Louisiana Interscholastic Athletic and Literary Organization.

In Washington's second season, the Purple Knights went 9-1 and finished in a three-way tie for the Catholic League title with Holy Cross and Jesuit.

During those times, only two teams from a district were allowed to make the playoffs and a coin toss determined which two teams would go.

“That was a really good football team, and you should never think negative, but I just knew we were not going to win that coin toss," Washington said in a 2015 interview.

He was right, and St. Aug had to wait five more years before finally capturing that elusive LHSAA state championship.

"To win 87 percent of your games is special under any circumstances," said Oyd Craddock, one of the captains on the 1975 state championship team. "But to win 87 percent under the circumstances we faced was phenomenal.

"The officiating and rulings and just the difficult environment of the racial social climate at the time made it tough. But we just kept coming back and persevering, and coach Washington was the reason for that."

Washington, a Selma, Alabama, native who attended school at Xavier and was the captain on Xavier's last football team in 1959, left St. Aug and moved on to LSU in 1980 as an offensive line coach.

He was the first black football coach at the school. The next year, in 1981, he was hired as Southern's head coach.

He coached the Jaguars for six seasons, compiling a 35-30-1 record, before he was fired in January 1987.

His dismissal came two months after a 30-3 setback to instate rival Grambling and legendary coach Eddie Robinson wrapped up a 5-5-1 season.

His best seasons were in 1982 (8-3) and 1984 (7-4), but he went 6-5, 6-5 and 5-5-1 in his final three seasons on The Bluff.

Former Jackson State coach W.C. Gorden, whose teams went head to head with Southern, calls Washington the "SWAC's sophisticated coach."

"He was the sharp dresser and very articulate communicator, and he produced great football teams," Gorden said. "His style of coaching attracted the largest fans, and it was always a pleasure to coach against him because he was such a sincere person.

"He could tell jokes, but he usually left that up to people like Eddie Robinson."

But Washington didn't mind ribbing on someone, too.

There was the game in 1984 when Southern lost a 63-45 shootout to Mississippi Valley and the Delta Devils' prolific quarterback-receiver tandem of Willie Totten and Jerry Rice.

It was the most points Southern ever allowed under Washington. Totten completed 46 of 66 passes for 553 yards and six touchdowns, and Rice caught 17 passes for 189 yards and two scores.

After the game, Washington was walking from Mumford Stadium to his office and spotted two of his cornerbacks chatting with Totten and Rice.

"I pointed at Jerry and told my two guys, 'If you would have stayed that close to him during the game, we might have won,’ ” Washington told The Advocate a few years later.

But for the most part, Washington was known for his teams' discipline and attention to detail.

He demanded that discipline from not only his players, but also his assistant coaches, said Tony Biagas, who played for Washington and then served as his assistant at both St. Aug and Southern.

"He was a tough disciplinarian, but as a husband and a family guy, he had a soft side that not a lot of people got to see. But I got to see all of it. He was a great man in more ways than one, and I'll surely miss him."

Washington was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 and the St. Aug Hall of Fame two years later. But his success transcended sports.

New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell referred to Washington as a "leader and a legend" in a statement on his death that expressed condolences to his family, friends and the St. Augustine community.

Visitation is set for Saturday, June 1, at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, 2250 Main St., Baton Rouge, at 9 a.m. with a funeral mass to follow at 11 a.m.

Interment will follow in Heavenly Gates Mausoleum in Baton Rouge.

A public viewing will be held in New Orleans on Thursday at a place and time to be determined.

Washington and his wife, the former Linda Patterson of Baton Rouge, had been married for 52½ years. They met in 1965 while he was coaching at St. Aug.

He was superstitious back then, wearing the exact same pants, belt, shirt and cap to every game for the first few years as a coach up until the time he won a state championship.

And he would make sure the team bus took the exact same route to City Park for its games, always going on Victory Drive. More times than not, a victory would follow.

Four decades after he coached his final game at St. Aug, his legacy continues.

McDonogh 35 coach Wayne Reese still uses plays he saw Washington's teams run.

"He had a simple offense and simple defense that beat everybody," Reese said. "He was a mild guy who could get along with the devil. That was his greatest thing. People just took a liking to him that was second to none.

"But on the field, he just kicked everybody's butt and made St. Aug one of the most powerful football teams in the country. He inspired me."

J.T. Curtis, the longtime coach at John Curtis Christian School, had similar sentiments. The two never faced each other, but Curtis was an assistant under Washington in an all-star game.

"He was a guy that always maintained relationships," Curtis said. "You might not see him for two years, but it was like you saw him yesterday. He'll be missed."

Brown, the former sportscaster who covered Washington, found out more about his when the two were chatting at an event at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame two years ago.

Current high school coaches kept coming up to Brown asking him to introduce them to Washington.

"It was like they saw the face of God," Brown recalled. "It was funny to see these grown men act like that. I told Otis, 'You have no clue what people in the coaching fraternity think about you.' He was just a good guy and good coach and just did stuff the right way."

Advocate sportswriter Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report.


Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.