It wasn’t like Tom Lavigne was looking for another coaching challenge.
But this soon-to-be 69-years-young coaching lifer certainly has found one as the man charged with breathing life back into the Higgins football program.
Lavigne was announced Monday as Higgins new football coach and replacement for Kenny Bush, who resigned in November after a 1-9 season, when the Hurricanes were shut out five times and scored a total of 39 points.
“I am not a miracle worker,’’ Lavigne said Monday as he brings nearly 40 years of college, junior college and high school coaching experience to his first head coaching assignment. “I am appreciative of this opportunity. I look at this as an opportunity to interject some positive direction into the lives of these young men of today.’’
Having been content spending the past three months serving strictly as a special education teacher at West Jefferson, Lavigne found himself intrigued by the Higgins vacancy.
Higgins likewise was intrigued by a coaching résumé that includes college stops at Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Grambling, Southern, Northwestern Oklahoma State and most recently as defensive coordinator at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock before joining West Jeff.
A New Orleans native and All-American defensive back at Grambling under Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson, Lavigne also has been a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Ehret, Landry-Walker, Cohen and McDonogh where he earned a reputation as a hard-nosed, demanding leader to whom players gravitate.
“What a good man,’’ said former Ehret football coach Billy North, now a Jefferson Parish Public Schools System school board member, who coached alongside Lavigne in the late ’80s and early ’90s where players such as Reggie Wayne and Kordell Stewart blossomed. “(Higgins is) very lucky. What a great man and what a great résumé.
“Tom is old school and a disciplinarian who will love his players, and he’ll coach them like they’re his sons. Tom has coached high school, junior college, major college all over the country so he has all sorts of connections. The Higgins community certainly has gotten a jewel. I’m excited for them. I’m excited for Tom. Awesome.’’
The Hurricanes have gone 1-9, 1-9 and 4-6 the past three seasons under Bush while being shut out six times in 2017. The previous three seasons from 2013-15 produced a cumulative record of 6-23.
The program has recorded seven consecutive losing seasons in all and not advanced to the Class 5A state playoffs since 2011.
For Lavigne, who turns 69 on Sunday, the rebuilding begins off the field by trying to touch the minds and hearts of his new players.
“These are young men, but really they are boys,’’ Lavigne said. “I tell them they’re boys first. Then they grow into young men and then they grow into men. So that’s the process that I told them that we’re going to use.
“It always starts with the social aspect of (life). If you can’t communicate with people socially, then when you go to class, academically you’re still behind the 8-ball. It’s not always solved athletically.
“So athletics is my third priority. We’re going to get the athletics. But there are some other things you better do in the process because some of these young men have lost civility about what life really is. They don’t know what civility means. I try to instill that into these young men first.
“Yes, there are some challenges out here. But you can’t just go off and react, because that reaction if it’s negative is going to last with you for the rest of your life. We’re trying to put some thought process into what we do and let it carry over into football.’’
Lavigne was hired on Jan. 25 by principal Faith Joseph after two rounds of interviews with five candidates who were chosen from an initial field of 18 applicants. The Marrero school used an eight-person selection committee that comprised of athletic director Buddy Viellion, another Higgins administrator, two student-athletes and four community members.
“Tom comes in knowing the area, knowing the types of kids we have and he’s very disciplined,’’ Viellion said. “That was a big part of what we were looking for, somebody who is very disciplined and will go out into the community, talk to these kids and keep them from going to other schools. He’s going to go out to our feeder schools and get these kids involved with our program, get them acclimated upfront to the way we do things.
“Tom has college experience. So he’s able to reach out to different college connections that he has that will help get these kids into school somewhere. That’s what we want for our kids. We want to make sure we’re giving them all of the opportunity we can to go to college whether it’s playing sports or not.’’
“I’m going to try to pull and push and tug and make these young men understand that you’ve got to put effort into what you want,’’ Lavigne said. “We’re going to see how it goes and we’re going to work hard at what we do. And then we’re going to let the chips fall where they fall.’’