Former McKinley High coach Calvin Nicholas was impressed by what he saw the one season that Robert Valdez served as head football coach for the Panthers.
Fast-forward eight years.
Nicholas, now a first-year principal at Scotlandville High, hired Valdez of West St. John High as the Hornets football coach Wednesday, ending a rapid-fire coaching search that began last week when Eric Randall resigned to become an assistant principal at Baker High.
“I think we got lucky,” Nicholas said. “I watched him (Valdez) coach at McKinley, and I was impressed with the way he handled himself and handled his players. So I called to see if he might be interested. When he told me he’d come for an interview, I knew we had a chance.
“But I have to say, we ended up with two impressive finalists. Coach (Sean) Beauchamp (Scotlandville defensive coordinator) is a fine coach too. I didn’t know a lot about him before I came here, but he hasn’t hesitated to do anything we’ve asked. I feel good about our program moving forward.”
Beauchamp served as interim coach after Randall resigned. Beauchamp also serves as the school’s track coach and coached girls basketball in 2014-15.
“The thing that’s bad about this is the timing,” Valdez said. “It’s so close to the start of the season. You never know when an opportunity is going to come up.
“There’s always going to be a special place in my heart for the kids and all the people at West St. John. I’m 41, and at this point in my life, getting the chance on the 5A stage is where I want to be. I look forward to reconnecting with some of my roots in Baton Rouge and getting to coach another group of outstanding young men. Only this group will be at a different school.”
After that one season at McKinley, Valdez moved on to great success at Class 1A West St. John. He led the Rams to a 60-29 record in seven seasons and is 64-35 overall. Valdez coached the Rams to a Class 1A runner-up finish in 2011. West St. John finished 10-3 the past two seasons, advancing to the 1A semifinals. The Rams opted to play up to Class 2A this fall.
There’s also some symbolism. Valdez is a former O. Perry Walker standout and was part of coach Pete Richardson’s first recruiting class at Southern University in 1993. Valdez was the starting center for Southern, and Randall was part of two Jaguars teams that won Black College National Championships.
Valdez inherits a Scotlandville squad that is coming off its best season since the restarting football more than a decade ago. The Hornets were 9-4 and advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals before losing to District 4-5A rival Zachary High.