It seems only fitting that Tom Gainey and Wayne Grubb should retire from the St. Tammany Parish Public School System at the same time: The 2017-18 school year was their last, capping more than 80 combined years in education.
They both arrived at Slidell High as football assistants in 1980. Gainey became the head coach in 1981, remaining there until 1985 when he left to become an assistant at Southeastern. He later was head coach at Salmen and an assistant at Nicholls State, until he went to Northshore High in 1993. Gainey was head coach there until 2000, and athletic director for the 18 years after that.
Grubb succeeded Gainey at Slidell and remained head coach until 2007, after which he served as assistant principal until this spring.
Gainey, 66, has spent the last two months with his wife, Mary, traveling to the West Coast and back in their RV. They plan more travel while he fulfills his passions for fishing and golf.
Grubb, 67, said he isn’t quite as set on this future, except that it won’t involve education.
“I’ve been going to school since I was 5, so I don’t want to do that anymore,” he said.
St. Tammany Farmer reporter Ted Lewis talked recently with Gainey and Grubb about their careers and how they see the future of the sport they spent a large part of their lives coaching.
What do you miss most about coaching and what do you miss least?
Gainey: I miss the interaction and the camaraderie you have with the other coaches and the relationships you develop with the kids. I made a Facebook post reflecting about my coaching career, and I was overwhelmed by the responses I got. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring a tear to my eye.
But I’m not going to miss the long weekend hours of breaking down film, and I’m not going to miss the group of constant complainers.
Grubb: I always enjoyed preparing for games, watching video and putting together the game plan. I enjoyed teaching the game to kids.
But after stepping away from it, there were some things I didn’t miss. I went from 1985 to 1996 without being able to take a vacation with my family.
Who was the person who had the most influence on your coaching career?
Gainey: Oscar Lofton and Sonny Hill were my high school coaches at Hammond. I got to play for them and coach with them in college. And I was blessed to become good friends with them.
Grubb: My dad died when I was a sophomore in high school, and the next year, my mom died of leukemia. My coaches looked after me.
The head coach was Bubby Tomlinson, who had been a sergeant in the Marine Corps and was a tough guy. I lived with my aunt and uncle — his name was Ed Maupin. He had fought in World War II with the Marines. So I had a lot of guys around me whether I wanted it or not.
Because of fear about CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and other factors, the number of kids playing football is declining. How upsetting is that to you and do you see it ever reversing?
Gainey: The game has changed so much in 40 years when it comes to safety issues, but I don’t think it’s going away. But the thing that scares me is sports in general on the high school level. With the advent of so many travel teams, even now in football, I’m worried if high school sports will survive.
Grubb: I love the game of football, and I just hate to see it decline. It’s just disheartening.
You also hear about coaches having to be more sensitive with their players. Are athletes really different from they were 30 or 40 years ago?
Gainey: Society is different, so they are different. You weren’t enabled at all. I would come home complaining about a coach and my dad would say, “Boy, wasn’t it your idea to go out for that team?” Nowadays, parents don’t want to let their kids learn from their mistakes.
Grubb: I think they’re different because parents are different. It’s probably a better time with things like keeping kids hydrated. That’s better than when I played; we chipped on a piece of ice. I swore when I became a coach we’d never just have a No. 3 washtub with a block of ice in it.
You got into coaching when making the playoffs was a big deal. Now, with the split (between private and public schools in the playoffs,) almost everyone gets in. Is that good or bad, and has the split helped or hurt high school sports in Louisiana?
Gainey: It comes down to the private schools running a business and the public schools running a public entity. That’s what has caused all of the animosity. The playoffs have been watered down, but the small schools are getting a chance to play for something they never have before. So it’s a double-edged sword.
Grubb: At one time I was for the split because I saw recruiting going on. The split has brought attention to a lot of things, but I’d like to see us get back together.
Tom, you were a successful coach, but your team never got past the quarterfinals. Wayne, one of your teams (1986 squad) reached the championship game, but lost a heartbreaker to Ruston. Is that a hole in your résumé?
Gainey: It’s an itch you can’t scratch. But at the same time it doesn’t come close to keeping me up at night. I look back at it from the perspective of being in the environment (where the kids were great,) but (there was) not enough talent to get over that final hump. I wouldn’t trade (my players) for anything in the world.
Grubb: You always want to be as successful as you probably can, but you can’t measure that in state championships. We always felt like we got the most out of our kids, and we felt like they played hard every time. Since I retired, I got some real nice cards from players I coached. That’s means more to me than how many state championships I did or didn’t win.
What would be your advice to someone thinking about getting into coaching?
Gainey: You’d better have a good idea about how much time you’re going to be spending with somebody else’s kids, and your family had better be behind you. If you don’t have someone to support you, you’re not going to make it.
Grubb: There are many rewards of coaching, but you’re not going get rich, at least on the high school level. But you’re going to get rich in relationships and the people you deal with, including the parents.
What’s it like to see your ex-players now in their 40s and 50s and realize they’re grandfathers like you.
Gainey: Every fall when the school has an open house, it’s kind of unnerving to see somebody whom you taught there with their kids who are in high school already. But it’s fun, too.
Grubb: I like to remind them of things they did as players that I had to deal with. It's some of the same things they’re having to deal with now with their own kids. So what goes around, comes around.