Though a history buff himself and academic himself, Jimmy Tillette scoffs at the line from F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“There are no second acts in American lives,” the line goes.
Tillette, a New Orleans native, proved that wrong six years ago when, after stepping away from coaching college basketball for a year, he returned to his roots and took over the head varsity job at Newman.
But he set the stage for his third and final act on Monday, announcing that he was retiring from coaching after 44 years in the business with an LHSAA state title and two NCAA tournament appearances among his long list of accomplishments.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and Newman was very generous waiting to see how I felt,” said Tillette, whose latest season at the helm with the Greenies ended March 1 as Newman fell to eventual Division III state champs Country Day 62-38 in the quarterfinals.
Tillette said after an active life as a runner, knee replacement surgery isn’t far down the road, and he felt like after his team’s solid 15-9 campaign this season, it was a proper time to move onto his next stage in life.
But it won’t be easy. After graduating from St. Aloysius High School in 1968, Tillette played basketball and baseball at Tulane. He briefly considered a law career before latching onto assistant coaching jobs at Belle Chasse and Jesuit. He then coached at De La Salle for seven seasons, including the program’s best-ever, when the Cavaliers finished with a 40-1 record and a Class 4A state title in 1986.
From there, he worked as an assistant in the college game at Mississippi State, Tulane and Samford before being awarded the head coaching position with Samford in 1997. During his 15 seasons with the Birmingham, Alabama, school, Samford went 229-219 and made two consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament as a No. 14 seed in 1999 and a No. 13 in 2000, losing to St. John’s and Syracuse, respectively, in the first round. The team had never made the tournament before his arrival and hasn’t since.
He finished as the program’s winningest coach, but he said his proudest moment involves his players’ accomplishments off the court.
“Of all the kids I coached there, only one guy didn’t graduate on time, and it was because he went to go play in Europe,” he said. “And just recently, he went back and finished his degree. I’m really proud of that.”
After he was fired in 2012, without a winning record in his final six seasons, Tillette said at the time he wasn’t certain he would coach again. He spent a year living in Ann Arbor with his wife and spent the offseason as a consultant for several programs, including Maryland and Texas A&M. He was a relative regular during the season observing John Beilein’s group at Michigan and Tom Izzo’s team at Michigan State.
But his heart was in coaching, and that’s why he returned to his hometown and took over at Newman in 2013. Since, his team’s have produced a 101-73 record, and he’s enjoyed the years of getting to coach up against familiar faces, some of whom he coached himself during his early days. Continuing to maintain those relationships, along with possibly some teaching, is what he’s looking forward to most in his next chapter.
“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “I’ve been lucky and have had lots of nice people, former players who still call me, and that means a lot to anyone in this business.”