The Louisiana Sports Writers Association

The LSWA

2015 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Inductees


FRANK BROTHERS -- A New Orleans native who trained Thoroughbred horses for nearly four decades, Brothers saddled 2,359 winners from 10,440 starters (22% wins, 50% in the money) and earned $48.9 million in purse money from the time Equibase began keeping statistics for trainers in 1974. He had 348 stakes wins, 50 graded stakes races -- most notably wins in the 1991 Preakness and Belmont Stakes with Hansel. Brothers received the Outstanding Thoroughbred Trainer award from the United Thoroughbred Trainers of America in 1991, while Hansel won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old. After 10 years as an assistant to Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg, Brothers struck out on his own in 1980 and was the leading trainer at Louisiana Downs nine times and Fair Grounds on five occasions. In the 1990s, he moved his operations to Kentucky and Oaklawn Park, and won training titles at Keeneland, Oaklawn Park and Churchill Downs. Served as private trainer for Lazy Lane Farms and later for Claiborne Farm for much of that time. Brothers won his first graded stakes race in the Fair Grounds Classic with Police Inspector in 1984. He last trained in 2009 and now serves as a bloodstock agent. Born 10-24-1946 in New Orleans.


PAT COLLINS – Collins coached the University of Louisiana at Monroe (then Northeast Louisiana University) football team to the 1987 NCAA Division I-AA National Championship, still the only I-AA (now FCS) title ever won by a Louisiana school. It is also the only time a Southland Conference team ever won the national title. That team had a 13-2 record and defeated North Texas, Eastern Kentucky, Northern Iowa in playoff games leading to the title game in which ULM defeated Marshall, 43-42, in Pocatello, Idaho. Collins coached at ULM for eight years and is the school’s all-time leader in wins with a 57-35 record for a winning percentage of .620. His 1983 team also won a Southland Conference crown. Was named the National Coach of the Year in 1987 by CBS Sports and Football News and also was the LSWA’s Coach of the Year in 1983 and 1987. A player under Hall of Fame coach Joe Aillet at Louisiana Tech, Collins became an assistant coach at his alma mater and helped Hall of Fame coach Maxie Lambright win three NCAA Division II national championships from 1971-73. Born 8-20-1941.


JAKE DELHOMME -- A record-setting quarterback at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he threw for 9,216 yards and 64 TDs with 57 interceptions from 1993-96, Delhomme led Carolina to the Super Bowl to highlight an 11-year NFL career, seven with the Panthers. The Breaux Bridge native was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Saints and spent three seasons on their practice squad. His career took off when he signed in 2003 with the Carolina Panthers, leading them to Super Bowl XXXVIII in his first season there. In an 11-year NFL career, he threw for 20,975 yards with 126 TDs and 101 interceptions while completing 59.4 percent of his passes. Played in 103 games with 96 starts, posting a 56-40 record as a starter in the regular-season and a 5-3 mark in playoff starts. Most of his success came in seven seasons with the Panthers and set club records for passing yards (19,258), TD passes (120) and game-winning drives (23). In his first season in Carolina, he led the Panthers to an 11-5 record, NFC South title and berth in the Super Bowl, where he nearly led his team to a victory against the New England Patriots before falling 32-29 on a field goal in the final seconds. He completed 16 of 33 passes for 323 yards with three TDs, going 9-of-14 for 211 yards and two scores in a fantastic fourth quarter in which the Panthers outscored Tom Brady and the Patriots 19-18. After leading Carolina to two more playoff berths, including the 2005 NFC Championship Game, Delhomme threw a 5-yard TD on the final pass of his NFL career with the Houston Texans in 2011. Born 1-10-1975 in Breaux Bridge.


KEVIN FAULK – A former Carencro High School and LSU star, Faulk played in 161 games in 13 NFL seasons with the New England Patriots (1999-2011) and won three Super Bowl rings, played in a fourth title game and was inactive for a fifth. Chosen for the Patriots’ 50th-Anniversary Team, he finished as the franchise leader in all-purpose yards (12,349 yards rushing, receiving and on returns). A second-round draft pick (46th overall), the compact 5-foot-8, 202-pounder was a dependable, speedy running back who could scratch out the tough yards -- especially on third down -- and was a capable receiver out of the backfield. Rushed for 3,607 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and also caught 431 passes for 3,701 yards. Scored 31 total touchdowns (16 rushing, 15 receiving). Was a standout kick returner as well, averaging 22.6 yards with two TDs on 181 kickoff returns and 9.3 yards on 101 punt returns. His best season was in 2003 when he rushed for 638 yards and added 440 receiving yards on 48 receptions. In 18 career playoff games, in which his team was 14-4, he rushed for 425 yards and caught 51 passes for 412 yards. Faulk – who graduated from LSU in three-and-a-half years – was sensational for the Tigers from 1995-98, rushing for a school-record 4,557 yards -- which at the time was second-most in SEC history behind Herschel Walker’s 5,259 yards. A three-time All-SEC pick and AP All-America selection in 1998, he ran for 1,144 yards and 15 TDs as a junior in 1997 and backed it up with 1,279 yards and 12 TDs after returning for his senior campaign -- leading the SEC both years -- and finished with 22 100-yard games and four 200-yard games. He held the SEC record for 11 seasons with 6,833 career all-purpose yards, fifth in NCAA history at the end of his college days. Faulk was a two-time Class 5A Offensive MVP at Carencro, where he had 7,612 all-purpose yards and 89 TDs and earned USA Today and Parade All-America honors. Born 6-5-1976 in Lafayette.


YVETTE GIROUARD -- A 2005 inductee into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the former University of Louisiana at Lafayette and LSU softball coach piled up 1,285 wins -- fourth-most in NCAA history (as of the end of the 2015 season) -- in a sparkling 31-year career. She was 759-250 from 1981-2000 with the Ragin’ Cajuns and 526-171-1 at LSU from 2001 until her retirement after the 2011 season. Her career total of 1,285-421-1 produced a winning percentage of .755. Girouard started the Ragin’ Cajuns program at her alma mater, going 7-15 in the inaugural season in 1981. After that, she compiled 30 consecutive winning seasons. She took her teams to five Women’s College World Series -- 1993 (3rd-place finish),’95 (5th) and ’96 (5th) at her alma mater, then guided LSU to Oklahoma City in 2001 (3rd) and ’04 (3rd). She had a total of 19 40-win seasons (10 at UL-Lafayette, 9 at LSU) and nine 50-seasons (6 with the Tigers, 3 with the Ragin’ Cajuns). Girouard won 50 games in six of her first seven seasons at LSU, topped by a 59-11 record in her first season there in 2001, and won three SEC regular-season titles (’01, ’02 and ’04) and four SEC Tournament titles (’01, ’02, ’04, and ’07). She was the driving force behind building Tiger Park, one of the nation’s top collegiate softball facilities which opened in 2009. From 2001-04, she had an amazing 222-52 record. She produced back-to-back records of 57-7 and 57-5 in 1993 and ’94 with the Ragin’ Cajuns. Girouard coached 41 All-Americans and 16 Academic All-Americans in her 31 seasons. She was an eight-time conference Coach of the Year in the Southland (1984, ’85 and ’87), Sun Belt (2000) and SEC (2001, ’02, ’06, ‘11). Girouard won her 1,000th game with an 8-3 decision over Arkansas on April 6, 2005 and became only the third coach to record a 1,200th victory, doing so in the NCAA Tournament in 2009. Girouard, one of only three coaches to take two teams to the WCWS, was the National Fastpitch Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in 1990 and 1993. Born 5-14-54 in Lafayette.


AVERY JOHNSON - Nicknamed “The Little General,” the gifted playmaking guard carved out a solid 16-year NBA career with six teams -- most notably the San Antonio Spurs from 1994 to 2001 – and has been head coach of the Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets. As a player, he helped the Spurs win the 1999 NBA championship and the team retired his No. 6 jersey in 2007. Standing only 5-3 while a standout at New Orleans’ St. Augustine High School, Johnson helped the Purple Knights to a 35-0 record and the state championship as a senior. Undrafted after two years at Southern University, he played in 1,054 NBA regular-season games (starting 637) and 90 playoff games. While his career numbers were modest at 8.4 points and 5.5 assists per game, he was invaluable as a floor leader while playing 25.3 minutes a game. His top scoring year was in 1995 when he averaged 13.4 ppg with the Spurs. He averaged more than 5.0 assists a game in 10 of his 16 seasons -- including eight straight from the 1992-1993 to 1999-2000 seasons. He averaged 9.6 assists in 1995-96 (ranking third in the NBA behind perennial assists leaders John Stockton and Jason Kidd) and 8.2 assists in 1994-95. Johnson, a popular ESPN analyst recently hired as head coach at the University of Alabama, was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2005-06 when he led Dallas to the NBA Finals. In only two seasons as a player at Southern, Johnson averaged 10.7 assists in 1986-87 and 13.3 assists in 1987-88, with the totals ranking third and first all-time in NCAA history. His career average of 12.0 assists a game is an NCAA record, along with his mark for single-game assists (22) and most games with 20+ assists (four). He was chosen as the Southwestern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and was MVP of the conference tournament both seasons. Born 3-25-1965 in New Orleans.


LEONARD SMITH -- A star defensive back at Lee High School in Baton Rouge and McNeese State before going on to a nine-year NFL career (1983-91) with the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills, Smith holds NCAA records for blocked kicks which helped earn him enshrinement among the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014. He played at McNeese from 1980-82 and was a first-round draft pick in 1983 of the Cardinals (17th overall). Smith was a first team AP All-America and two-time first team All-Southland Conference pick was the Southland and All-Louisiana Defensive Player of the Year in 1982 while winning McNeese’s team MVP award. He remains the conference’s record holder with 17 blocked kicks -- leading the NCAA in 1980 and 1981. He holds NCAA records for a single season in blocked field goals (4) in 1981 and for career blocked field goals (10) and total blocked kicks (17). For his NFL career, he had 14 interceptions, 14 sacks and nine fumble recoveries, scoring two touchdowns, while starting 120 of 138 games. He helped the Bills to two of their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, starting and recording eight solo tackles in Super Bowl XXV vs. the New York Giants. Smith also had nine tackles in a 10-7 win over the Denver Broncos in the AFC title game in 1991, but was sidelined for Super Bowl XXVI with a knee infection. He is a member of the McNeese State Hall of Fame. Born 9-2-1960 in New Orleans.


OTIS WASHINGTON - Head football coach at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans from 1969-79, Washington was 106-26-1 and coached state championship teams in 1975, 1978 and 1979 in Class 4A, the largest classification at that time. His 1971 team was state runner-up. The Purple Knights won district titles in the fabled Catholic League of New Orleans in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1979, twice missing the playoffs by losing a three-way coin-toss in 1970 and 1977. His 1975 team was unbeaten (15-0). More than 120 of his players earned college scholarships. He served as head coach in the 1976 state all-star game and was named state coach of the year in 1972 after a dominant, unbeaten team had to forfeit eight games due to an ineligible player. His three non-playoff teams had a combined 28-2 record. In 1980 he moved to LSU as offensive line coach, then became head coach at Southern University a year later and served there until 1986. A graduate of New Orleans’ Xavier University, Washington was an all-conference guard and linebacker and an all-conference baseball player in college.


Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award

PAUL J. HOOLAHAN – Hoolahan’s shrewd leadership over 19 years has helped keep the Allstate Sugar Bowl among college football’s elite postseason contests. Hoolahan became the Sugar Bowl’s executive director in 1996 and has added the role of Chief Executive Officer of the organization, which not only hosts at least one of college football’s premiere games annually, but also stages a continuing series of events promoting high school and college sports around the state. Hoolahan has directed the bowl’s operations for 21 bowls, including five national championship games during his tenure in New Orleans. Most recently, he brokered an arrangement with the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 Conference to host the top available teams from each conference in the Sugar Bowl through 2025 - except for when hosting four College Football Playoff national semifinal games, as it did in 2015. In Hoolahan’s nearly two decades with the Sugar Bowl, the organization has generated well over $2 billion for the local economy. During his tenure, the bowl has more than doubled its number of ancillary community events. In 2014, the Sugar Bowl took on title sponsorship of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s slate of state championship events. Hoolahan also spearheaded the Sugar Bowl’s involvement with New Orleans’ successful bid to host the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, as well as the 2013 NCAA Women’s Final Four. In addition to its many events, the Bowl is also heavily involved with several other local organizations. The Allstate Sugar Bowl sponsors the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, The Manning Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding quarterback, and the local chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. It took over title sponsorship of the Crescent City Classic in 2012.


Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism

BOBBY DOWER - Dower was a writer and editor for the Lake Charles American Press for 43 years and was a defining figure in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, including serving as president of the organization and on the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame selection committee, in five decades until his death in July 2014 at 62. Dower began his career as a freshman at McNeese State when he walked into the American Press sports department asking for a part-time job. At the age of 25, he was named sports editor in 1976, then in 1993 took over as the paper’s news editor, later moving to editor-in-chief and managing editor roles, along with serving as chairman of the newspaper’s editorial board. Best known for his personal and insightful coverage of McNeese athletics, Dower greatly expanded the American Press’ overall scope of coverage, adamant through his various positions that the paper could exceed the range of a typical small-town daily. He added new emphasis on local reporting on LSU and the New Orleans Saints while raising the bar on coverage of area high school and amateur sports. A winner of numerous LSWA and Associated Press awards for writing and editing, including the inaugural LSWA Columnist of the Year Award, Dower’s ability to hire and mentor talented sports staffers was remarkable, and resulted in the American Press collecting hundreds of honors for its sports coverage during his career.


GLENN QUEBEDEAUX An innovative editor and skilled writer who in a 38-year career helped usher in the modern era of sports coverage in Louisiana, Quebedeaux started full-time in 1975 at the Abbeville Meridional and two years later opened a 15-year run as sports editor at the New Iberia Daily Iberian. After entering private business, he continued as a sportswriter until 2005 as a correspondent for the Baton Rouge Advocate and other publications, primarily with UL Lafayette coverage. His service to the LSWA has included stints as president, serving on the Hall of Fame selection committee since its inception, and managing the organization’s expansive writing contest annually since 1993. Before taking over contest oversight, he won 54 awards in categories such as deadline writing, columns, spot news, headlines, makeup, section design, special section design and the LSWA’s Prep Writer of the Year honor in a dozen years from 1980-92. Quebedeaux’s Daily Iberian sports section was the state’s first to feature a full agate page, regarded as absurd by some colleagues at larger dailies. The coverage included hockey results at the dawn of its regional interest; racing entries with morning odds for two Louisiana tracks (Evangeline and Delta Downs), believed to be a first by any state daily; and morning betting lines on pro and college sports, not acceptable at the time at many papers. Quebedeaux also was one of the state’s early trailblazers in recruiting coverage. In his term as LSWA president, membership reached an all-time high of 165.








No doubt, Brothers fits as first trainer to enter state hall

By Kent Lowe

Written for the LSWA

Seven jockeys of great respect have gone into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame over the years.

One of horse racing’s Eclipse Award winning owners is a member.

If at least one voting member had his way, a horse might have been considered for induction by now.

But until this year’s induction ceremony in Natchitoches on Saturday, June 27, no Louisiana trainer of America’s great racing thoroughbreds had been thought good enough to earn induction.

There is no doubt this is the guy.

Just as the Hall of Fame voting panel knows there are several jockeys with Louisiana roots heading into the stretch for enshrinement, the richly-deserved induction of New Orleans native Frank Brothers is just the first of what will eventually be other future trainers going into the Hall.

For Brothers, his ability to win and win and win at both the New Orleans Fair Grounds and Louisiana Downs came at a time when racing in the state was flourishing, especially at the Bossier City track in the 1980s. It was a time when no simulcasting and no racing in Texas made the track the place to be at to bet on racing and make headlines as papers from three different states had reporters staffing the spring-summer-fall meet.

“I didn’t see it coming at all and thought it was quite an honor, being a homeboy down there and involved in the sport,” Brothers said recently from Louisville. “When they said I was the first trainer, I couldn’t believe it. I was very happy and elated. I’d have thought there would have been some horsemen in there from back when, because they breed ‘em down there, the riders and the trainers.”

When Brothers retired in 2009 from full-time training he had won 2,359 races and $48.9 million in purses. Included in that span were nine consecutive training titles at Louisiana Downs and five titles at the Fair Grounds. He would also capture training titles at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Oaklawn Park.

Frank Brothers took part in one of the traditional aspects of New Orleans family life when he was young. He would attend the races on the weekend. The oldest of three sons of a New Orleans’ electrical contractor, Brothers began riding in the sixth grade and starting showing national caliber Quarter Horses. He spent two years at the University of Southern Mississippi before deciding he wanted a career in the horse game.

In 1970, he got a job as a hotwalker with eventual Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg at the Fair Grounds. He moved up the ladder during his 10 years with Van Berg, learning from the veteran conditioner the ins and outs of the game.

By 1972, he had taken those ins and outs, applied for his trainer’s license and got his first win. He was saddling horses at a variety of tracks for Van Berg’s sprawling operation. “Probably for about eight of those 10 years I worked for him I was an assistant trainer. In a lot of those years, the horses ran under the assistant’s name; the assistant needed to have a trainer’s license.”

The golden years, so to speak, in Louisiana came from 1978-88 as he won those training titles in New Orleans and Bossier City.

I was at Louisiana Downs as part of the PR operations from 1983-88 and witnessed first-hand what Frank Brothers could do. I also witnessed his hard working style and a barn area that was meticulously organized to the minute on the day’s schedule. That time didn’t include a lot of time for notes writers like me trying to see which horses might run where, but when you got a minute or two at the appropriate time, the information was the type that every writer would use.

Brothers’ success was made because he could win with both claiming and stakes horses, something trainers are not always successful at.

He scored his first graded victory in the Fair Grounds Classic with Police Inspector in 1984 and five years later noted his first Grade I victory with Secret Hello in the Arlington-Washington Futurity. He would condition Louisiana multiple stakes winners like Monique Rene, Bayou Black, Temerity Prince, Dr. Riddick and Sastarda.

Brothers won the New Orleans Handicap in 1985 with Westheimer and in 1986 had the two richest victories of his career, to that time, at Louisiana Downs when Brevito won the $346,950 Sport of Kings Futurity and the Grade II Golden Harvest with Nettie Cometti, who would win a Louisiana-bred record earnings for the time.

The wins came in bunches at Louisiana Downs. What started as 44 and 46 wins in 1980 and 1981, turned into yearly totals approaching 100 by the time the ninth year of the streak came in 1988. He would win some 800 races just at Louisiana Downs.

But there were still highlights in his career to come. In 1989, he became private trainer for Joseph Albritton’s Lazy Lane Farms. Albritton purchased a horse named Hansel for $150,000 in 1989 at Keeneland. As a 3-year-old, he would put Brothers in the winner’s circle at the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, two of America’s classic Triple Crown races that trainers just hope for opportunity to run in, much less win. He also would win the Louisiana classics of the day – the Super Derby in 1998 with Arch and the 2000 Louisiana Derby with Mighty.

If anything gave Brothers his advantage in the racing game, besides the lessons learned from Van Berg, it was his view of horses. He saw things in his own unique way that told him what the future might hold for a thoroughbred about to go through the sale ring.

“I’m probably a bit more forgiving than some people because I’m drawing from my experience of seeing – for more years than I would like to admit – what horses looked like in the paddock and what they looked like in my barn,” he said. “It’s great if everything falls into place physically, but in reality, most of them just aren’t perfect horses. There are flaws that you can live with and flaws that you can’t.”

One of Brothers’ other big winners was Pulpit, who won the Fountain of Youth and Blue Grass Stakes in 1997.

Pulpit was “the most brilliant horse I trained, not the most accomplished,” Brothers once said. “That would be Hansel, because he won classics.”

Pulpit would finish fourth behind Silver Charm in his Kentucky Derby run, but suffered an injury to his left hind leg during the race and was retired to stud duty. He proved to be a very successful stallion, living until the age of 18, producing close to 500 winners. He was the grandsire of 2014 Oaks winner Untapable and Triple Crown race winners California Chrome and Tonalist.

Brothers’ eye for horses was significant even when it came to yearlings by Pulpit. It was the type of small thing that again what made him so successful.

“Some of the yearlings by Pulpit aren’t very good walkers, but they’re still good runners, so it can be a very inexact science.”

Brothers would train for clients including Claiborne Farms, Lazy Lane Farms and Bruce Lunsford before deciding in 2009 to call it a career on his training days.

“I had a great career for a little guy,” Brothers said. “I have no regrets. I tried to play the game on the high end …. I trained some wonderful horses for some very fine people. The vast majority has put the horses well-being first, which is very important to me.

“I still love the game,” he said. “I love the horses, the people involved in it.”

These days, the general public still knows the Brothers name thanks to his wife, Donna, who was a former outstanding jockey in her own right before marrying Frank. Now she plays a major role on NBC’s coverage of the Triple Crown and the Breeders Cup and more times than not, can be found on a pony horse getting the first reaction from the winning jockey in the minutes after the race.

Just like other Hall of Famers, Frank Brothers starred in his sport in Louisiana. It was a time when racing, especially 70 miles to the north of Natchitoches, was going through its greatest period. While other trainers are still to come for this HOF, he will always be known as the first conditioner inducted.

Just add it to a list of accolades that made him one of the best around. He learned from one of the nation’s best and in the end, became one of the state and nation’s best.




Strong will fueled Collins’ dream, title-filled career

By Bill Campbell

Written for the LSWA

It was Shreveport, probably 1956, maybe ’57, but Pat Collins remembers the moment specifically.

He was a 10th-grader living in the blue-collar neighborhoods of West End.

His father, Jack Henry Collins, a railroad man, opened the ice box in their kitchen and pulled out a quart of milk before bed. Then he looked his son, all of 5-foot, 9-inches and 135 pounds, straight in the eye and said, “I just want to tell you, if you want to go to college, you’re going to have to get a scholarship.”

Thus began the story arc of a seemingly ordinary kid, if an ordinary kid can be extraordinarily focused on what he wants from life and nimble enough of foot and wit to build it from scratch.

The Pat Collins who will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches on Saturday, June 27 is the product of a teenage vision. And though he started his journey with little more than his own desire, he could never have attained the status of Louisiana legend without tapping into an array of skills ranging from athlete to coach to CEO.

Collins’ induction speech will no doubt recall the coaches and mentors who taught him the lessons that he wrote in notebook after notebook over a half-century. But it will have special meaning to those who emulated his style – the younger coaches who took their own notes, the businessmen who incorporate his lessons, and a ring of others who came to admire his indefatigable spirit and generosity.

The teenager responded to his father’s warning with a plan so simple in theory but mammoth in execution: he headed to the weight room. He knew needed college to become a coach, and now he knew there was only one route to college.

So Collins dedicated himself to adding pounds and muscle. He set goals for his weight. Be 140 pounds by September, 150 a few months later.

His size made his objective unlikely, but his work ethic made it a cinch. By 12th grade, he was 205 pounds and a worthwhile football recruit.

E.J. Lewis, a Louisiana Tech assistant coach when Collins arrived as a freshman offensive lineman in 1959, quickly noticed something unusual for a kid in that era.

“He was one of the first people I recognized as a weightlifter,” Lewis said. “He was relatively small, but he was worth every ounce.”

Even as he worked toward a degree and enjoyed the life of a college football player, Collins continued to think about life farther down the road. He wanted to be a coach, so he didn’t miss the opportunity to study his own coaches. And he took notes.

“Did I ever,” Collins said. “I filled notebooks, and I still have them today.”

Note: “You learn something from everybody you work with.”

Collins played for Roy Wilson at Fair Park High, Joe Aillet at Tech. His first fulltime job was at Airline High School in Bossier City as an assistant to John Ropp.

“Roy Wilson would teach you to be tough,” he said. “Coach Aillet was extremely brilliant and organized. He had great speaking skills. He’d come down the hall and talk to you, and you didn’t realize until he was gone that he’d chewed you out.”

Ropp was a motivator, and Collins picked up “John Ropp psychology.” One of his favorite stories is of a Ropp pregame speech that makes him laugh so hard he can barely get the words out.

“He was getting real worked up, and he had me turn off the lights when he gave me the signal,” Collins remembered. “Then he reached out and pinched a player, and you’d hear this loud roar in the darkness, and they’d all go running out onto the field.

“They ran right over me.”

Years later, when his University of Louisiana-Monroe teams played his alma mater, Collins used Ropp’s speech before one of their many victories over arch-rival Tech.

He didn’t leave fate to chance, however, when it came time to pinch. “I found one of those real big guys and told him, ‘When I pinch you, scream and run out.’ ”

Collins’ legacy, of course, was sealed by the 1987 Division I-AA (now FCS) national championship at ULM, then known as Northeast Louisiana University. That was the product of an experienced head coach with his own first-class staff of assistants.

But Collins’ first experience with championship teams came as a member of the Tech coaching staff that won three Division II titles in 1971-73. The years as an assistant to Hall of Famer Maxie Lambright, coaching alongside Lewis, Mickey Slaughter, Pat Patterson and Wallace Martin, shaped the philosophies he would use as a head coach.

Years later, his own protégé, John King, would laugh at some of Collins’ habits.

“I used to make fun of some of the stuff he told us,” said King, who has been head coach at Longview (Texas) High for 11 years. “Now I go around telling my assistants the same thing.”

King watched Collins transform from coach to executive, taking his duties as athletic director as seriously as coaching.

“I’ve never seen a head football coach so wrapped up in the big show,” King said. “I was worried about winning, but he was worried about tickets, halftime, the marching band, the cheerleaders, the fencing, the gates, the garbage cans.

“That used to crack me up. Who worries about trash cans? He wanted the facilities to look first class. And he wanted everyone to feel like the role they played was important.”

Note: “You take the good and keep it. Get rid of the bad.”

King took that note, and what did he learn? To hang on to what Collins taught him.

“Not much has changed here since he left,” King said.

Another longtime assistant and former player for Collins is Ronnie Alexander. He called Collins “hard to play for,” and it’s the biggest compliment he can give.

“He was tough as heck on me,” said Alexander, an assistant on the 1987 ULM championship team who now coaches at Calvary Baptist High in Shreveport. “You would think maybe you wouldn’t like somebody like that. I absolutely loved him. He made you accountable, and sometimes you take for granted some of the things you learn from him. Some people don’t have the chance to work for a guy like that.”

Roger Carr, a wide receiver on Tech’s championship teams who became a Pro Bowler with the Baltimore Colts, found his first coaching job with Collins, on that 1987 ULM team.

As a player, Carr watched Collins coach Tech’s defense. He was grateful that when his NFL career ended Collins wanted him around again. He and freshly retired USFL quarterback Bob Lane were brought in to coach an offense with plenty talent.

Now a pastor in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Carr admired not only Collins’ work ethic, but how he was “at ease with a lot of different types of people.”

But it was his first staff meeting at ULM that stayed with Carr throughout a 25-year coaching career.

Note: “It’s not I and me; it’s us and we. Sometimes you might forget that, but I’ll remind you.”

As a young defensive coach, Collins coached like he played: aggressive. “Man the torpedoes,” he’d say, “because I’m bringing ’em.” Later, he would admit, “I was winging it.”

But Lewis called him a brilliant defensive tactician who spent hours studying film and finding solutions to every offensive twist by the next opponent.

One of Collins’ biggest disappointments came when Lambright retired, and Tech did not hire him to take over in 1980. He believed he was ready, and when Tech chose Larry Beightol, he shared his opinion with the powers that be.

“It made me angry, and I didn’t handle it well,” he said. “It was a tough time for me. I thought the sun rose and set in Ruston. If I had it to do over, I would do it differently.”

It would not be Collins’ last regret, but this faux pas was followed by opportunity. ULM coach John David Crow called, looking for an assistant coach.

“I never dreamed I’d be coaching at ULM,” he said.

Collins became a head coach when Crow resigned in 1981. It wasn’t the job he’d worked and planned all those years to obtain, or was it?

Soon, he loved his life in Monroe, getting to Malone Stadium before sun-up, firing up the coffee pot, then climbing to the press box for exercise as the sun rose in the distance. Often he’d think back to his old coaches, and he’d flip through his notebooks.

One of his linebackers was Duke Marcus, now a Monroe businessman who owns several Popeyes restaurants around the South. He respected, and feared, his coach, but he was awed by his passion for coaching.

“In my time there, I never saw the man eat,” Marcus said. “He couldn’t sit still.”

Collins wasn’t nervous. He just moved too much to stop for breakfast or lunch. His one meal was the last business of the day, about 10 p.m., then he’d be up at 4 a.m. to do it all over again.

“It takes about three years to learn how to be a head coach,” Collins said. “You’re so used to going to someone else to get an answer. All of a sudden, you look around and there’s nobody back there.”

Note: “You take things from these guys who have been so successful. You dig deep into the people who’ve done it.”

ULM had begun to have success when Collins landed the first of two big-armed quarterbacks who went on to successful NFL careers. Monroe native and Neville High standout Bubby Brister was transferring out of Tulane, looking for a coach who could match his intensity.

“I could tell we had something special,” said Brister, who played 99 NFL games in a 14-year career and now lives in Mandeville. “I was high-strung and he was too. He coached hard and I played hard.”


Cajuns’ Delhomme – hometown hero with humble heart

By Bruce Brown

Written for the LSWA

Jake Delhomme is still the same person he's always been.

That might not seem that hard, but after all he's achieved, the Breaux Bridge product still remains a product of his south Louisiana roots.

When Delhomme helped rescue Lafayette's Teurlings Catholic High School football program from the doldrums and into the state playoffs, it didn't go to his head. If anything, it drove him to work harder.

USL's Ragin' Cajuns endured a 2-9 campaign in 1992, but true freshman Delhomme took over at quarterback midway through the 1993 season opener and promptly sparked the Cajuns to an 8-3 finish.

Again, his reaction was to seek improvement, and he threw for a career record 9,216 yards and 64 touchdowns at the school.

He was 25-18 as the starter, including a 29-22 upset of No. 25 Texas A&M in 1996, and never lost to an in-state foe.

Then, when he got his chance to lead an NFL team after years as a backup in New Orleans, Delhomme directed the 2003 Carolina Panthers to their only Super Bowl berth.

That stage wasn't too big, either, as he threw for 323 yards and three scores in a thrilling 32-29 last-second loss to New England.

With each step along the way, including 20,975 yards and 126 TDs in 11 NFL seasons, Delhomme stepped up to lead. And yet, he remained the same person throughout.

“It means he was raised right,” said Teurlings coach Sonny Charpentier, who was Delhomme's TCHS position coach. “He's grounded, and he's got his priorities straight. His dad and mom (Jerry, Marcia) did a good job.

“He has definitely never forgotten where he came from, like some (pro) athletes do. He's a huge ambassador for this area.”

Notre Dame Pioneers coach Lewis Cook saw many of the same qualities while, as USL’s offensive coordinator, he coached Delhomme.

“That's why, as an 18-year-old, Jake was able to step in and lead us from 2-9 the previous year to 8-3,” Cook said. “He was grounded, mature, highly motivated and extremely competitive.

“He went at it and attacked it. What you see is what you get with Jake.”

Delhomme is being inducted Saturday, June 27, into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches, among a class that includes among others Carencro's Kevin Faulk and Broussard's Yvette Girouard, but he remains the same approachable Cajun he was when he was young.

“It hasn't changed my life,” Delhomme said. “It has put me in contact with a lot of people I hadn't talked to in a while. I've invited a lot of people as a token of gratitude.

“The Hall of Fame allows you to take a step back and appreciate the people and places that have been a part of my life, and how lucky I was that things worked out for me.”

Delhomme relied on his solid upbringing for strength and patience as he awaited his turn in the NFL – similar to Hall of Famer Ron Guidry with the New York Yankees in the 1970's.

“I was so proud of him,” Charpentier said of Delhomme. “There were so many times he could have said it was not meant to be. But when the lights came on, he was always ready.

“He deserved everything he got. That's why I think he appreciates it more. So many just give up. It takes a guy who believes.”

“Quite honestly, I did question whether I would get the chance,” said Delhomme, undrafted in 1997. “It was by chance I got a free agent tryout with the Saints. I got the call to be their training camp arm, then once I got there I said this is not too big for me.”

He languished on the Saints bench, with no pass attempts for two years, before defeating Dallas in a late-season start in 1999. Then it was back to the bench until 2002 mop-up duty as coach Jim Haslett stuck with Aaron Brooks and missed the playoffs.

Delhomme even played in NFL Europe to get seasoning, but he lost some prime years.

“The talent level is fairly close,” he said. “The difference is, what drives you? Are you mentally strong enough to make it?”

His patience finally bore fruit when he signed with the Panthers.

“I loved what I did for a living, and I ended up in the right place,” Delhomme said. “In Charlotte, the owner (Jerry Richardson), team and structure are all there. I took true ownership in what came with my job, and to walk into that locker room after a win on Sunday was the pinnacle for me.”

Delhomme caught lightning in a bottle in 2003, leading Carolina to the Super Bowl with playoff wins over Dallas (29-10), St. Louis (29-23 in two overtimes) and Philadelphia (14-3) – the last two on the road.

The ex-Cajun hit 59-of-102 passes for 987 yards and six scores in the postseason, including a 69-yard TD to Steve Smith to end the Rams game and vault his team to the NFC title game against the Eagles.

“It was like a fast, happy dream,” Delhomme said of the Super Bowl clincher. “It was my first year starting, and I was still learning to be an NFL quarterback.

“It's more than just playing. Injuries keep adding up. There's a physical toll. You can never stop learning. The whole year was on fast-forward.

“Then, when we got in the huddle (with the NFC Championship Game in hand), it was pure joy. I saw two grown men cry – two of my linemen, one a 13-year veteran and the other 11-year. I said, 'Wow.' That's when you truly get it.”

The Panthers reached the conference championship again in 2005, losing at Seattle, and also made the playoffs in 2008.

Delhomme stayed with Carolina through 2009, had an injury-shortened 2010 campaign with Cleveland and was a midseason insurance pickup with the Houston Texans in 2011.

His last NFL pass was a touchdown against Tennessee – full circle from a tip-drill interception first attempt in 1999 – and he finished 61-43 as a starting quarterback in the league.

Returning to the family business with Jerry and brother Jeff, Delhomme serves as vice president of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

He and wife Keri keep busy with athletic daughters Lauren (12) and Lindsey (8), who thrive in Biddy Basketball with their father helping as a coach.

“I love that they love it,” he said. “But they also enjoy being around people. They're proud when their teammates do well. They're growing up and evolving.

“Without doubt, they get that from my wife. She's full of life. Enthusiasm is something that gets lost. I don't need negative, and we raise our kids that way.”

Asked what his legacy will be, Delhomme said, “I hope I'm remembered as a competitive SOB who will do whatever it takes to win. On the personal side, I want to be remembered as someone who enjoys life and treats people with respect. That's good enough for me.”


Early impressions about Carencro’s Faulk were on target

By Kevin Foote

Written for the LSWA

Banks Menard still remembers the first time he ever heard about Kevin Faulk.

He was on the staff of new Carencro High head coach Mac Barousse at the time when the town’s middle school coach showed up at practice one day with a proclamation.

Carencro Middle coach Billy McCauley told he and Barousse that this seventh grader he had would be the best thing to ever hit the field at Carencro High.

At the time, an All-State caliber quarterback named Greg Laxey had just left the program to begin a college career with the hometown Ragin’ Cajuns.

“We were like, ‘Yeah right,’ but I decided that I had to go see this kid,” Menard said. “I watched this kid beat Anderson Middle, which I’m not sure had ever lost a game before, by himself. He was incredible.”

As quickly as he could, Menard reported back to Barousse.

“Coach, you’ve got a stud coming up,” he exclaimed. “Kevin Faulk is the real deal.”

For the next two decades, that seventh grader proceeded to make McCauley a prophet.

As a freshman at Carencro High, he intercepted nine passes starting at safety. As a sophomore, he led the Golden Bears to the first football state championship in the history of Lafayette Parish.

“Even as a freshman, his work ethic was relentless,” former Carencro High assistant coach Tony Courville said. “Sure he had a lot of God-given talent, but his mental strengths was as big or bigger than his physical strengths.

“I will never forget this 15-year-old kid during a big moment in the state championship game just tap Mac (Barousse) on the shoulder and say, ‘I got it coach.’ You don’t see that very often.”

The two-time State Offensive MVP and USA Today and Parade All-American then took his game to LSU where he restored a winning attitude to the Tigers with three straight winning seasons after the program had endured six consecutive losing seasons prior to his arrival.

Faulk was drafted by the New England Patriots in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft.

During his 13 years with the Patriots, he played in five Super Bowls - winning three – was honored on the Patriots 50-year anniversary team and finished as the franchise’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards.

All of those statistics, though, only begin to provide the reasons why “Kevin Faulk is the real deal.”

Faulk’s impact on football in Louisiana will be cemented forever with his induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Saturday, June 27 in Natchitoches.

“This honor is a big one,” Faulk said. “This is home. This is recognition from your peers back home.”

Home has always meant a big deal to Faulk.

These days, he’s back at Carencro High coaching, hoping to provide the kind of leadership today’s youth need.

“This is where I come from,” Faulk said. “I take it very seriously. I’ve been there. I know the things that these kids learn in high school are lessons they can take with them moving forward.”

The players Faulk are currently coaching weren’t even alive when Faulk’s legend really began back in the fall of 1992 as a sophomore quarterback.

“When you’re a sophomore, you’re not even thinking about pressure,” Faulk said. “Truthfully, I didn’t feel any pressure. What pressure? All I had to do was hand the ball off to Ernest Lazard or Derrick Beavers. That wasn’t pressure.”

And yet, cool beyond his years, it was Faulk being named as the MVP in the 28-27 overtime win over Neville in the state championship game.

Before his high school career was over, Faulk would amass 4,877 rushing yards at a clip of 8.1 a carry and 7,612 all-purpose yards with 89 touchdowns.

“He was always thinking that there was something he could do better,” Menard said. “He worked at it. He went that extra mile. He had speed, vision and such a great knowledge of the game. He had passion for the game.

“When you have it, you have it. He’s one of those kind of athletes that you only get every 10 or 20 years.”

Faulk’s former LSU running backs coach Michael Haywood said it didn’t take him long to realize what kind of superstar athlete Faulk was.

“The first day I showed up on campus was the day Kevin Faulk came to visit LSU,” Haywood said. “I was stunned. All of those recruits were treating him like a rock star, asking him for his autographs.”

Patrick Pass was one of those prospects who was a big fan of Faulk and he wasn’t even being recruited by LSU. He was from Tucker, Ga.

A USA Today All-American the year after Faulk left Carencro, Pass said he would regularly wake up each Saturday morning to watch the ‘Countdown to Signing Day’ TV program just so he could watch Faulk’s highlights.

“I was a big fan of Kevin’s,” said Pass, who played at Georgia and then was a teammate of Faulk with the Patriots from 2000-06, 2009. “He was unbelievable. He had some incredible highlight-film runs.

“When we (Georgia) played LSU in 1998, I was happy just to be on the same field with Kevin Faulk.”

If Haywood didn’t quite get it initially, it didn’t take him much time on the practice field for Haywood to learn what all the fuss was about.

“Kevin Faulk was the smartest football player I ever coached and the most competitive athlete I ever coached,” Haywood said.

“He saw things before it happened. “He understood the technique and the fundamentals so well.”

Faulk possessed the kind of attributes that can make it easy to coach, sort of like being the quarterback coach for Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

“Booger McFarland would joke with me during practice, ‘Coach Haywood, you can have the day off again today.”

The only thing Faulk didn’t feature was a tall frame. During his days with the Patriots, he was listed at 5-foot-8.

“But he always played with a 6-2 heart,” Menard said.

“I never thought his size was a problem,” Haywood said. “He was as physical as (other LSU backs) Cecil Collins, Rondell Mealey or Kendall Cleveland.’’

By the time Faulk left LSU, his 4,557 yards rushing was second in SEC history only behind Georgia’s Herschel Walker and his 6,833 all-purpose yards and was fifth in NCAA history and tops in the SEC, before being eclipsed by Tim Tebow in 2009.

Once in the NFL, Faulk’s big impact wasn’t as easily noticeable … to some at least. The Patriots’ coaches, players, media and sure noticed him.

He finished as the franchise’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards. He finished with 3,607 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing, as well as 3,701 yards and 15 touchdowns receiving.

But when he was elected to the franchise’s 50th Anniversary team, and as the story goes, he accepted that news with little fanfare as always.

Owner Robert Kraft called him into office to inform Faulk of the honor.

“I thanked him and told him that I didn't believe it,” he said. “Then I told him I had to go to practice.”

In short, that was Faulk.

“He was always humble and hard-working,” Menard said. “He still is.”

It was that approach that allowed Faulk to play 13 years in the NFL. Instead of seeking fame when other teams came calling to make him a featured back after his first contract ended in New England, Faulk stayed and just continued to play a huge role in helping the Patriots win.

Faulk gave credit to former agent and friend Raymond Brothers, Jr. for encouraging him to stay in New England instead of taking more short-term money elsewhere.

“What do you want to do?” Haywood remembered saying in discussing the issue with Faulk. “He said, ‘I want to play 10-14-15 years in the NFL.’

“I agreed with him at the time. What’s wrong with being a third-down back? Look how it worked out for him.”


Building programs, stacking up wins part of Girouard’s legacy

By Dan McDonald

Written for the LSWA

If there was ever a coach who built a program from the ground up, it was Yvette Girouard.

Literally.

And, shhhhh, don’t tell anyone. She had to steal the dirt for that ground.

“We didn’t have the budget for anything like that,” Girouard said of one of the many hurdles she had to leap while getting the UL Lafayette softball program going in 1980. “They (her players) borrowed my dad’s truck and stole sand from somewhere.”

Girouard was also responsible for spreading that sand ... and basically everything else that was involved in inaugurating a program that has now made 25 NCAA Tournament and six Women’s College World Series appearances in 26 years. Before she was done, someone else was worrying about getting the field ready, as she was busy going 759-250 in 20 years as head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns and finishing fifth or better nationally three different times.

She added 526 more victories and two more third-place finishes in the College World Series while at LSU before retiring after the 2011 season. That’s a total of 1,285 wins, the fourth-highest total in NCAA history.

She’s one of only three coaches in NCAA history to take two programs to the World Series

But for the self-proclaimed “little girl from Broussard,” it was never about the numbers. It was about opportunities, something she worked all her life to provide for her student-athletes at both schools.

“In the big picture, it was about the experiences,” she said. “When I see all those former players, they can’t remember the scores to any games, but they sure can remember the stories, and they’re all begging to tell them and hear them.”

Many of those former players will gather, and many of those stories are being rehashed as Girouard becomes the first softball coach ever inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, on Saturday, June 27 in Natchitoches.

But, seriously, could there possibly be anyone else to represent that sport, in this state?

She’s more proud of being a Louisiana native than she is of the 13 Louisiana Coach of the Year honors. She was the national Coach of the Year twice, as well as winning Coach of the Year accolades in three different conferences, and is already in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame. But this one’s different, since it comes at the only place she ever called home.

And it all might not have happened, if a couple of her future players hadn’t recruited her.

Pat Pourciau, a St. Bernard Parish native and the starting pitcher for then-USL’s first-ever official team, had helped organize a club team and approached Cajun head women’s administrator Sherry LeBas about starting a true varsity team. One thing LeBas told her was that they needed a coach.

A few days later, Pourciau and fellow inaugural-team member Donna Clark approached Girouard, who had coached in the Lafayette Parish system but had left to take a full-time role in the iconic Ton’s Drive-In family business in Broussard.

“I told them I’d do it for a year,” Girouard said. “We had no salary, no real budget. But my mom finally told me that I was going to do this ... that I was born to do this and not serve the public hamburgers.”

Instead, she began serving the public on-field success ... but not right off the bat, pun intended. That first team, made up of tryouts who were already on the USL campus, went 7-15. That was her first and last non-winning season. A year later, the second-year Cajuns went 15-13. Two years later they won the Southland Conference.

“We found a bunch of shirts that matched and had ‘USL’ pressed on them,” Pourciau said. “We wore some red shorts and played with P.E. equipment. It developed character. You look back at it, and it’s a humbling experience, and it probably wouldn’t have happened without Yvette.”

Scholarships? Catcher Blaise Talbot came out of New Iberia Senior High a couple of years later and was the first softball player to receive any financial aid, but that financial help wasn’t what drove her. “I knew I wanted to be a Lady Cajun, Girouard said she wanted me to be a Lady Cajun, and that was it,” Talbot said.

“We didn’t have scholarships, but we had kids that loved playing softball,” Girouard said. “They would have done anything just to go to the games. A sandwich and a Coke was fine. It wasn’t about what they were given, they just wanted to represent the university and play softball. It was the climb, it was the struggle. It was fun ... we didn’t know any better. It was just a simple, beautiful time.”

What was also beautiful to Girouard was the opportunity, something that was a cherished commodity in the days when schools were still figuring out what to make of Title IX. Support for women’s athletic programs, for the most part, was still in its infancy, and both Girouard and her early-year players had to do things to make their program possible that would stun current student-athletes.

Those early travails, though, built a bond, built a family, with Girouard as the pseudo-mom.

“You can’t describe it,” said Talbot, who caught nearly every game in the USL program’s second through fifth years. “The bond that was formed that quick, it was unexplainable. But you immediately knew there was a family, and Yvette made sure that we appreciated what we had. And you knew at some point that it would be special.”

The program she founded and then turned over to one of her star pupils, All-American pitcher Stefni Lotief, when she accepted the LSU position in 2001 now has more than 1,500 wins and 42 All-Americans. At her next stop, Girouard went 526-171-1 and won seven different SEC titles in 11 seasons with the Tigers.

She took over a good LSU program, and made it a great one. As the Tigers took off, the SEC did too, as illustrated by this year’s Super Regionals with eight of the 16 spots filled by SEC teams. She developed another rabid fan base and designed the sparkling Tiger Park complex that will be the envy of Power Five programs for years to come.

Alabama coach Pat Murphy, who since 1999 has taken the Crimson Tide to nine WCWS appearances and a 2012 national championship, got his start in the sport as a graduate assistant, then a fulltime assistant for Girouard at USL.

“Yvette’s legacy at LSU and within the SEC is still being felt today,” said Murphy, who coached with Girouard from 1990-94. “She raised the bar on competitiveness: with eight SEC schools in NCAA Super Regionals this year, much of that success can be traced back to Yvette and her days at LSU.”

It’s not just by chance that Louisiana has two legendary, nationally-known collegiate softball programs – both the Tigers and the Cajuns hosted NCAA Regionals and advanced to the Super Regionals in May – and Girouard built both of them. Of course, it took 10 years for her USL teams to become an overnight success, with the pieces finally falling together in 1990 when the Cajuns were ranked seventh nationally and claimed a first-ever NCAA berth.

“It was obvious my freshman year (1989) that the pieces were there,” said Oklahoma City product and eventual All-American Cathy Sconzo. “We were on the verge of becoming something big. It was a great feeling to be a part of that, and all of the former players were there cheering us on. They couldn’t have been more supportive.

“Girouard was wonderful about telling the stories and never letting the foundation of the program die. We heard the stories about painting the fences and laying the sod. Those teams weren’t regional teams, but they set the stage and made it possible for us to be there.”

They are indeed family, a family that stretches over two schools joined by Interstate 10 ... bitter rivals on the field because of their proximity and national status. And that’s not a bad thing, especially since Girouard can sit back at her lakeside home in Baton Rouge, drift out to wherever the fish are biting in the late afternoon, and remember fondly the families that wouldn’t have been there if her own family and all her adopted daughters hadn’t made that first push.

“Alisa Smith (another early USL player/pioneer) had played volleyball and came over to softball, and she said that this is such a family compared to anything else she’d ever been associated with. That’s what made this special and keeps it special today.”

“A fellow teacher heard me talking one day about the impact that Girouard had on all our lives, and how immeasurable it has been,” Talbot said. “She said I was lucky to have played for her, and she’s right. How lucky are all of us?”


Avery Johnson: ‘I didn’t know if I was good enough’

By Teddy Allen

Written for the LSWA

Basketball courts dotted the city, spread in points from the Lafitte Projects in New Orleans like uneven spokes on a bicycle wheel.

Tonti Courts. Lemon Playground. Treme Center. Hike it to Algiers or City Park or Lawrence Square. Any place with a net and a hoop and a game.

And that’s all Avery Johnson and his friends in the 1970s in the heart of New Orleans needed: a bicycle and a basketball and a place to play. Johnson kept finding courts, first the concrete ones at home and later the best courts in the world, hardwood that welcomed him into one town and one coliseum after another throughout a 16-year NBA playing career.

Metaphorically, as he did year-’round as a boy looking for a place to play, he’s never quit pedaling. It’s been a passionate journey, one that’s led Johnson into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, with enshrinement in Natchitoches on Saturday, June 27.

A star first at St. Augustine in New Orleans and then at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Johnson played in 1,054 career games with six different NBA teams. He played 10 years with San Antonio, the franchise that retired his number “6” in 2007.

Johnson has been the head coach of two NBA teams – the Dallas Mavericks and the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets – and was an ESPN analyst when hired in April by the University of Alabama to become the school’s 20th head men’s basketball coach in the program’s 102-year history.

It’s quite a resume for a self-described “journeyman.”

“As a young man, you look at other people going into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, people you’ve wanted to play ball like, to be like,” Johnson said in May after a charity golf tournament in Birmingham, only the latest in a long list of events he’s attended or duties he’s attended to since being named coach of the Crimson Tide. “During my time as a journeyman in the NBA and at Southern at St. Aug, my getting there wasn’t something I necessarily thought about. Tell you the truth, I didn’t know if I was good enough.”

He was.

It started in the heart of New Orleans, where he can’t remember not having a basketball around. His main courts were two outside one, each asphalt, and another with a hard indoor court. The courts wouldn’t wear out; neither would the boys.

“I was not a ‘get up Saturday and watch cartoons’ kid,” Johnson said. “We played from 8-til-8, basically. Maybe grab a sandwich if we could.

“We always had games. Always had games. The thing is, we had our main courts, but we could travel all over the city on our bikes,” he said. “Wherever the games were, that’s where we wanted to go. And the games were so good, if you lost, it might be an hour before you’d get to play again. So you can understand that those games were fierce and highly contested.”

The practice paid off. As a tiny 5-3 senior at St. Aug – he’d grow eight inches during the next couple of years -- Johnson and his teammates were 35-0 and state champs. He played his final two collegiate seasons at Southern, led the NCAA in assists both years and was named Southwestern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and the Most Valuable Player of the SWAC Tournament his junior and senior seasons. He owns or shares several NCAA Division I records, including most assists in a single game (22), most games with 20 or more assists (four), highest single-season assists average (13.3) and highest career assists per game average (12).

“The first time I ever saw Avery play was as a collegian, and he and his Southern teammates would battle against arch-nemesis Grambling,” said Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame writer O.K. “Buddy” Davis of Ruston. “You could tell then that he had the makings of a bright future, both as a player and a coach, because he was so immersed in the game and exhibited outstanding leadership qualities.”

But none of that got him drafted into the NBA after his graduation in 1988.

He finally caught on after the summer of ’88 with Seattle, the first of six NBA teams he played for. In 16 seasons, he averaged 8.4 points, 5.5 assists and 25.3 minutes played.

Gregg Popovich, who coached Johnson for nine seasons in San Antonio, said his former star point guard “has a unique blend of desire, basketball knowledge and compassion.” Johnson was a key part of the 1998-99 World Champion Spurs, who beat the New York Knicks in five games to win the title; it was Johnson who hit the last-minute Game 5 game-winner, a left-baseline jumper in Madison Square Garden – quite a long bike ride from the French Quarter.

Johnson was inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.

He retired as a player in 2004, and in October of that year, he was hired as an assistant to head coach Don Nelson with the Dallas Mavericks. Five months later, he was the team’s head coach. He was the league’s Coach of the Year in 2006, when his Mavericks made the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance and lost to Miami in six games.

After a couple of stints with ESPN as an analyst and two-plus seasons as head coach of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, Johnson accepted his latest challenge: head coach of the SEC’s Crimson Tide.

“Coaching is way more demanding than playing; it’s not even close,” Johnson said. “You’re responsible for yourself when you play. When you coach, you’re responsible for so many more people: your staff, auxiliary staff, decisions about travel, nutrition, the video department. Plus you have your sponsors on the NBA level and your donors on the college level.”

But that’s his job now, and it’s the challenge he was looking for, he said. The only time before now that he’s spent in Birmingham was in 1989 or 1990 when he and his SuperSonics teammate Derrick McKey, a former Alabama star player and No. 9 pick overall in the 1987 NBA draft, went to an Alabama football game together. In May, Johnson attended McKey’s induction into the State of Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work on mentoring these student-athletes,” Johnson said, and told the assembled boosters, administration and fans the day of his hiring, “I promise you, I will work morning, noon and night to get the job done.”

Tabbed the “Little General” by Spurs teammate David “The Admiral” Robinson, the 5-11 Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Southern in 1988. He and his wife, Cassandra, were married in July of 1991 in New Orleans. They are the parents of daughter Christianne, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and son Avery Jr., who this winter finished his freshman season as a member of the men’s basketball team at Texas A&M.

They’ll be with Avery the last weekend of June in Natchitoches, along with “quite a few relatives and friends from the New Orleans and Baton Rouge area,” Johnson said. “Oh, they were all excited when they heard about it. It’s just such an honor to go in with this group, and especially my hometown guys like Coach Otis Washington and Frank Brothers.”

Washington established St. Aug as a prep football power in the state’s largest classification in the 1970s. For the first time this century, and what’s believed to be only the third time since the Hall was founded in 1958, two inductees from the same high school – Johnson and Washington -- will be enshrined in the same induction class.

“I’ve had some nice things happen to me but, when you talk about the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, I mean, that’s kind of the crème de la crème. This is the top. The top of the line. No matter where I’ve gone – and I’ve spent most of my career outside the state, and I’m now coaching in Alabama – I’m still a New Orleans guy. My roots are still in Louisiana.

“This recognition and honor is something for all those people who helped me become the type of pro athlete and person I grew into,” he said. “This is for all of them.”

-


Smith’s career finally receiving overdue acknowledgement

By Louis Bonnette

Written for the LSWA

Even though his football career has been over since the 1991 season, it’s been an outstanding seven months for former McNeese State All-American and All-Pro NFL defensive back Leonard Smith.

A cornerback and record setting kick blocker at McNeese and a strong safety for both the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills in the NFL, Smith was ushered into the College Football Hall of Fame last December and now will take a seat in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches on Saturday, June 27. He was inducted into the McNeese Hall of Fame nearly 20 years earlier, in 1996.

Speed, coupled with power and toughness, were characteristics that made him one of the best collegiate players in the nation during his career at McNeese.

“Leonard had played outside linebacker in high school, was quick as a cat, strong and explosive,” said former Cowboy head coach Tommy Tate, who was Smith’s position coach during his McNeese career.

“He had all the tools and he was just a natural at blocking kicks. He was a real physical player and a lot of that came from his having played linebacker in high school.”

Three times a first team All-Southland Conference selection, Smith still holds school, conference, Louisiana and NCAA records for total career blocked kicks (17 total, 10 field goals, three punts, four PATs), blocked field goals in a single season (4), total blocked kicks in a single season (6) and career blocked field goals (10).

Smith gives a lot of credit for his blocking of kicks during his collegiate career to his teammates.

“It was everybody working together and doing his part,” he said. “For me it was coming out of the blocks fast (he had 4.4 speed). It was controlling my speed, aiming low and not being afraid to block it (the kick).”

A native of Baton Rouge and graduate of Lee High, Smith had been courted by major football powers, including LSU, during his prep career. A deep thigh bruise put him on the sidelines for most of his senior career and opened the door for McNeese.

When he selected McNeese, he said then that he had been particularly impressed with the university and the football team because when he had visited the school, the Cowboys had lost a game. They had a chance to win the contest but a player had fumbled the ball away on a late drive.

That player was not chastised after the game, but was given encouragement by all and Smith noted then that the Cowboys were a family of which he wanted to be a part.

Smith played freshman ball his rookie year with the Cowboys, that 1979 season being the one in which freshman ball was installed, allowing those players to play and not undergo a redshirt year.

As a sophomore he became a starter and earned the first of three straight first team all-conference honors. He helped lead the Cowboys to a 10-2 overall record, to a conference title and to their third Independence Bowl appearance.

In his senior season pro scouts considered him to be one of the two best defensive backs in the nation and he was a first round draft pick by the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals, the 17th player selected overall. His honors as a senior had him being named to the Associated Press’ All-American team as well as a third straight All-Southland Conference award along with being named the All-Louisiana team’s defensive player of the year.

Ernie Duplechin, who served as head coach of the Cowboys from 1979 to 1981, remembers when Smith joined the team.

“He came to McNeese as a linebacker and was a little small for a linebacker. I talked Jack (then head coach Jack Doland, a 2002 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee) into letting me have him as a defensive back and that’s how he became a cornerback. He was a real talented guy who could do just about anything,” Duplechin said.

Smith’s first round pick by the Cardinals following the 1982 season made him the SLC’s highest drafted player ever at that time and the ranking remains tied as the highest in conference history, with Northwestern State’s John Stephens – picked in 1988.

The Cowboy standout went on to play nine seasons in the NFL and appeared in the 1990 and 1991 Super Bowls with Buffalo, being recognized as one of the top strong safeties in the league during his career. He started 120 of the 138 games he played in and in 1986 earned all-pro and all-conference honors.

An injury forced him to retire in 1992. Among his NFL statistics were 14 career pass interceptions which he returned 253 yards, scoring two touchdowns, while stacking up 14 sacks.

Longtime McNeese assistant coach Hubert Boales, who was also the Cowboy head coach for the 1982 season, remembers Smith for his athletic prowess.

“I remember one night I was making bed check and when I got to the dorm there were a lot of the players outside. They yelled at me to come with them because Leonard was going to prove that he could jump over a car.

“We got to the back side of the dorm and there was a Volkswagen sitting in the parking lot. Leonard walked up to it, took two quick steps and jump right over the hood of that car.

“Leonard had a lot of God given talent. And, could he hit you. He would hit you until the whistle blew and then some. That’s the way he played.”

Smith’s talent was not only on the football field.

He was an art major at McNeese and had some of his drawings and paintings on display during his collegiate career. Smith is also a mechanic.

“I’ve always been interested in art,” he said. “I guess that I first showed some talent for it when I was young and would sketch cars…the type of cars I wanted to have some day.”

His background as a mechanic began when he was 12 years old, working in his family’s lawn mower repair shop in Baton Rouge.

“I began with lawn mowers and went on to cars,” he said, noting that his uncle owned a garage and he learned the trade there.

As a 10th grade student at Lee High in 1978, he began a project of restoring a 1949 Chevrolet. He finished it a year later.

“Football was the only sport I played in high school so when the season was over, my spare time and weekends were spent in the garage working on cars.”

Now running the family business which continues to include the lawn mower service as well as the leasing of buildings, Smith divides his time between homes in Baton Rouge and Buffalo.

He still does some drawing when he has time and is in the process of restoring an old model Pontiac.

“I’m going to modernize it a little,” he said.


Washington didn’t plan to coach, but became a high school icon

By Ro Brown

Written for the LSWA

When Otis Washington graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans in 1961, he was your typical college graduate. He had no idea what he would do next.

He did have three options: head west to California, become involved in the Civil Rights Movement, or accept a job as a coach.

With the paltry sum of $16.82 in his pocket, California was out of the question.

The Civil Rights Movement was probably too serious for many in his age group.

He’s not sure why, but he took the least appealing road at the time and accepted a coaching position, even though he wasn’t interested in a coaching career.

“I figured I’d stay at St. Augustine for a year and then get the heck out of there,” he said.

One year turned into 18 and produced one of the Bayou State’s most successful high school coaching tenures.

Otis Washington, the coach who wasn’t interested in coaching, will be enshrined into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches, on Saturday, June 27.

When your 11-year head coaching resume says three state championships and one runner-up trophy, seven district titles in the ultra-competitive Catholic League in New Orleans, an 80 percent winning rate and over 120 players sent to colleges around the country, it’s difficult to believe coaching really wasn’t on his radar.

The Selma, Alabama, native was also the first African-American football coach at LSU and he was head coach at Southern University for six years.

Washington was captain of the last football team at Xavier University in New Orleans, in 1959. The only predominately black catholic institution of higher learning in the country dropped athletics during his junior year due to rising costs. However, he did managed to garner all conference accolades in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in football and baseball.

He went to see Father Robert Grant, principal of St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. Established in 1950, it was an institution with the mission of preparing black males for leadership roles in a changing society. The school was founded by The Josephites, a religious community committed to serving the African-American community.

“Father Grant told me they were going to do great things at St. Aug and he wanted me to be part of it. Actually, I was just ‘there’ the first year. I didn’t coach anything. I was one of those young, ‘gopher’ coaches.”

After one year he told Father Grant he didn’t think coaching was his thing. Fortunately, for Washington and St. Aug, Father Grant didn’t listen.

Instead he told the young “gopher” he would pay his way to a coaching clinic at Kansas State University. Obviously, Father Grant saw something in the coach who didn’t want to be a coach.

“I went to clinics the next three or four years,” said Washington. “All of the great college coaches at that time were there, Bear Bryant of Alabama, Jake Gaither of Florida A&M, John McKay of USC, Bill Yeoman of Houston. After rubbing shoulders with and learning from the best, I was hooked.”

St. Aug was in the midst of the school’s first amazing athletic run in the mid-sixties, winning three state football crowns in four years under coach Eddie Flint in the Louisiana Interscholastic Athletic and Literary Organization (LIALO), the black prep athletic governing body during segregation.

Otis Washington was the school’s junior varsity coach.

A historic and successful 1967 lawsuit allowed St. Aug to compete in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA), the white athletic association. After two subpar seasons, Father Grant handed the reins to a 26-year-old who had never been a head coach. It was one of the most significant coaching decisions in New Orleans and Louisiana prep football history.

The 1969 Purple Knights were 6-4 in his first season. 1970 was the breakout year. St. Aug shared the Catholic League Championship with Holy Cross and Jesuit, going 9-1. However, only 2 teams were allowed to compete in post season from each district. A coin toss decided which two teams would move on. St. Aug was the odd team out.

“It was really, really hard to take,” said the man many know as ‘Coach Wash.’ “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.”

Anthony Biagas was a member of that hard-luck 1970 squad. He would go on to become an All-Ivy League player at Princeton and a member of Washington’s staffs at St. Aug and Southern.

“We had good players but that team was good because Otis was always consistent, and a no- nonsense guy who preached fundamentals,” said the man who would spent 16 successful years as St. Aug’s head coach from 1986 to 2002. “Basically, we all worshipped the ground he walked on.”

In 1971, St. Aug was the without question one of the state’s best teams. Unfortunately, the state’s best team was district rival Brother Martin. St. Aug lost twice to the Crusaders, 7-0 during the regular season and 23-0 in the title game.

After two consecutive “frustratingly successful” seasons, Washington knew he was loaded in 1972.

“I called that team ‘radio.’ All you had to do was turn them on and they just played,” he said.

After running through a perfect regular season, St. Aug was informed they’d used an ineligible player during the year, forfeiting their victories and disqualifying them from post season play.

“I think about that team all the time,” said Washington. “Over 30 of those kids signed college scholarships. Just about every senior on the team signed. To be honest, they didn’t need much coaching.”

The Louisiana Sports Writers Association recognized the greatness of that team, and the transformational and trailblazing impact of its coach. Although paperwork prevented a state playoff run, the LSWA awarded Washington its Class 4A state Coach of the Year honor.

The 1972 Knights may have been Washington’s best team, but the 1975 group successfully climbed the mountain and was able to survey all it had conquered -- a perfect 15-0 season and the first LHSAA State Championship -- with a win in the final over Covington.

Finally, Coach Wash and the Purple Knights could hoist the trophy and not worry about ineligible players or flipping coins. He understandably has fond memories of 1975.

“That team had lots of talent, but they were different from 1972 because they were more cerebral,” he said.

Oyd Craddock was a captain of the 1975 state champs. Today he is President/CEO at St. Augustine.

He recalls the week of the state title match, Coach Wash decided to scale back practice, thinking the team would be fresh for the final. Craddock and fellow captain Byron Honore found out the no-nonsense coach could be flexible.

“We asked him to work us hard like any other week. He was always in control but he listened to us and went along with us because he had trust in the seniors,” said Craddock. “We always appreciated that.”

Otis Washington’s coaching career was groundbreaking, and amazingly successful. In 1978 and 1979, he directed St. Aug to back-to-back state championships -- a first in the Quad-A classification with the state’s biggest schools.

In 1978 they defeated Catholic League rival Jesuit, 13-7, before a record crowd of 44,000 fans in the Louisiana Superdome. That game is credited with giving birth to the idea of playing all state championships in the Superdome over two days. Three years later, in 1981, the LHSAA Prep Classic was born.

Darren Dixon quarterbacked the ‘78 and ’79 champs. Today he is Dean of Students at his alma mater after winning multiple state titles as the school’s track coach. He learned the importance of the athlete-coach relationship from the man who had a 113-17-1 record.

“Today kids want you to be their friend,” said Dixon. “Coach Wash kept enough distance and he didn’t really give you your accolades until the job was finished. He didn’t say a lot to me individually, but when he did say something I listened because I knew it meant a lot.”

During the Washington Era at St. Aug it is significant to note he coached two teams, 1970 and 1977 that failed to make the playoffs due to the luck of coin tosses. Then add in the 1972 club, eliminated due to eligibility issues. Those three teams had a combined record of 28-2 but got no shot at winning state crowns.

It’s easy to see why Otis Washington is worthy of hall of fame recognition in terms of victories and defeats. He flourished in arguably the most pressurized high school football program in the state. He won and lost with class, at a time when his football team carried the hopes and dreams of not just a single school, but the entire African-American community.

Now a humble retiree up the road in Baton Rouge, Washington was surprised when he got the “call from the hall” but he views it as recognition of hard work by a lot of people.

Otis Washington’s quest for excellence was unyielding. His motivation -- simple.

“I was determined not to be a coach whose team would get beat 77-0 or my kids wouldn’t know how to get into a three-point stance. I didn’t want them to not have a system to fall back on when they got in trouble,” he explained.

“I wanted to make sure our kids knew what they were doing, perform and be proud of their performances. I wanted their families to be proud of them and the people who followed St. Aug to be proud of them.”

Everyone, not just St. Aug families, should be proud of this Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

We should be grateful that $16.82 was not enough to take Otis Washington to California 54 years ago. He didn’t join the civil rights movement, but he made quite a trailblazing impact on Louisiana sports culture, and the community. The coach who didn’t want to coach changed Louisiana high school sports, and our state, for the better.


Hoolahan’s hand steers Sugar Bowl to its sweetest days

By Marty Mule'

Written for the LSWA

Don McCauley put it succinctly: “Paul inspires people through his leadership. He's a natural leader, and he always has been.''

He was discussing Paul Hoolahan, his old teammate at North Carolina and the guard he often followed into the line more than four decades ago. “Paul would just give a look in the huddle that said, 'Follow me.' He'd show the way.'' In their senior season McCauley followed Hoolahan to the NCAA single-season rushing record of 1,720 yards, relegating O.J. Simpson to second place.

That type of hegemony has been the hallmark of Hoolahan's two-decades tenure of keeping the Sugar Bowl in its place of prominence among college football's elite postseason destinations.

It sometimes behind the scenes has been difficult, and at least once nearly disastrous.

That the Sugar Bowl, in a city with no Fortune 500 Companies and a high poverty rate, is still in the top tier of championship venues is largely due to its Chief Executive Director, Hoolahan. It's also the reason Hoolahan, a native of Long Island, N.Y., is being recognized with the Louisiana Sportswriters Association's Dave Dixon Leadership Award, which also puts him in the company of the state's athletic giants with a place in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s 2015 Induction Class Saturday, June 27 in Natchitoches.

Hoolahan has overseen the Sugar Bowl since 1996, and is a now rare administrator with hands-on experience through college football's evolutionary phases of the Bowl Alliance, the Bowl Championship Series, and the College Football Playoff systems.

“You can't look back at what he has done and not be impressed with Paul's knowledge and leadership,'' said another Tar Heel teammate, John Swofford, the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference. “Paul is tremendously capable, a blend of smarts, toughness and with a big heart. He's done a wonderful job for the Sugar Bowl and college football in general.''

When Hoolahan, formerly the athletics director of Vanderbilt University, accepted stewardship of the Sugar Bowl in 1996, the game had money problems. The first game he oversaw, the Florida-Florida State national championship, lost money. “A national championship game should never lose money,'' Hoolahan says now, with a tone of disbelief.

He had to straighten – meaning change – business matters with the Sugar Bowl's partners. No easy task, and the Sugar Bowl would later receive criticism for enlisting minimal state aid, although the state is a major beneficiary of the game's drawing power.

Later, after Hurricane Katrina flattened – and nearly drowned – New Orleans, the Sugar Bowl was in mortal danger. The torn Superdome was unusable, and there was a strong possibility there could be no Sugar Bowl in 2006. Had that happened, the Sugar Bowl as we know it, an elite postseason game, would have evaporated along with partnerships with the Southeastern Conference, ABC-TV, and the BCS.

That would have the Sugar Bowl's death knell.

A month after the Sept. 5 storm, Hoolahan and some staffers received permission to enter the Dome, with masks to lessen the putrid smell after the building's long period without electricity, to retrieve computer hard-drives where all the game's vital information and contacts were stored – and went to work getting the Sugar Bowl on track.

With the help of the Atlanta Tourist and Convention Bureau and a helping hand from Peach Bowl personnel, the Sugar Bowl set up headquarters in Georgia. Hoolahan rounded up his staff, and started work. Despite losing six weeks to the circumstances, the staff and 50 Sugar Bowl members made up ground.

The result was a 38-35 West Virginia upset of Georgia, one of the best games in Sugar Bowl annals, and a game run virtually without a major hitch.

“Who wouldn't be impressed with that performance – and I'm not talking about the teams,'' Swofford said in admiration.

The third obstacle, in 2014, was directing the Sugar Bowl into prime position in the College Football Playoff system after the BCS evolved into the four-team playoff model for the title. With a rising tide of wealthier cities trying to buy their ways into the championship rotation – which had become a high-bidder's auction – the Sugar Bowl, with probably less resources than any of its competitors, found its way back to the first rank of postseason games.

“We kept the bar high and we kept meeting that standard,'' Hoolahan, who has overseen five national champion games, said. “This is the Sugar Bowl, a name that means something. For eight decades its name, tradition and history has meant something. It meant something to me, and I wasn't from here, and it has meant something to college football. That's not going to change if I can help it.''

McCauley believes Hoolahan's success comes in large part through sheer force of personality. “Paul inspires people through his leadership. To this day, he's so intense about what he sees as his missions, which he takes on with honor and decency – and accepts no excuses. Let me tell you, once we were leaving the practice field, talking and I told him I was going out that night. He stopped me, looked me in the eye and told me seriously that I wasn't studying enough lately. Hey, I was 21, who didn't go out from time to time at that stage?

“I did go out . . . but, I have to say, I was a little afraid to come back that night – almost as if I didn't want to face my parents. He knows what's right, he works to make things right, and leads people on the right path. I believe he is special that way, and he has always been that way.''


Dower’s joy for journalism, life always apparent

By Scooter Hobbs

Written for the LSWA

It’s a lot quieter around the newsroom of the Lake Charles American Press these days.

Maybe it was just more proof of how much Bobby Dower truly loved his job, damning evidence that he really did see newspapers as his true calling in life.

But the man literally whistled while he worked.

Incessantly. From the time he got to work early in the morning, on through the afternoon news meetings, even deep into those late, late nights waiting on high school football game stories to be rounded up or election returns to be finalized for the American Press.

And when the presses would rumble and roll, he’d likely be whistling while giving the next morning’s edition one last look-see, “hot off the presses,” as it were.

Most suspected that was his favorite of the many jobs he handled over a long career.

On those special later-than-usual nights, the custom was for the newsroom staff to convene at a late night Lake Charles restaurant and watering hole.

Staying behind until the presses rolled, it allowed him to deliver a half-dozen or so fresh newspapers to waiting reporters and civilians alike, all getting a head start on rehashing and unwinding after a long day and night.

It wasn’t a glamour job. But Dower relished it — when he strode through the doors at Papania’s Restaurant delivering the goods, flashing that beaming smile, you’d have thought he was carrying in the crown jewels.

And in his own mind, he probably was.

Nobody was ever more proud of where he worked or more passionate about what he did for a living.

Nobody sang the praises of a family-owned newspaper louder.

Nobody was more protective of the daily product —nor more conscientious about making sure he stayed proud of it — than Dower was about what showed up on Southwest Louisiana doorsteps every morning.

“I worked with him for 40 years,” said longtime American Press editor and political columnist Jim Beam. “I have never known anyone else who was so devoted to his profession.”

But, oh, the whistling — those cheerful, eternally upbeat and optimistic tunes cutting through the usual newsroom cynicism.

It was bits and pieces, mostly — various college fight songs but also some old standards, even the odd Christmas carol tossed in at any time of the year — while he wandered around to do his “visiting” with a younger and younger newsroom, just checking on everybody to see what was going on.

“Bobby Dower was everybody’s newsman,” Beam said. “Those he worked with respected his knowledge, experience, tactfulness and especially his caring.”

Nobody complained about the musical accompaniment — it was far easier on the ears than his much rarer forays into singing.

One year for his birthday, the art department at the American Press took a blank CD and dressed it up with a “Bobby Dower Whistles the Classics” cover that would have been worthy of a late-night infomercial.

The ever-present whistling — music to the ears of younger and younger reporters seeking Dower’s guidance and counsel over the years — has been silenced.

And far too soon.

It surprises no one who knew Dower that last July he worked a full newsroom shift the day before undergoing what was supposed to be routine surgery — but which discovered the cancer that took his life just two weeks later at the age of 62.

It will also surprise no one who came in contact with him that doctors and nurses claimed that he shattered all Lake Charles Memorial Hospital attendance records for most in-room visitors over his final two weeks.

It was a Who’s Who of Lake Charles — coaches, former players, politicians, businessmen.

But it was also just people, like the frequent contributor to the newspaper’s Letters to the Editor section, who came by just to thank Bobby. He’d first met him when he dropped into Bobby’s office, unannounced, just wanting someone to listen while he aired some gripe with City Hall.

“He was the one who got me interested in writing the letters,” he said. “I’d never written anything. But he encouraged me, helped me, made suggestions. I started coming by regularly and we’d just talk. He was something special to me.”

Also among the many hospital visitors was an overflow crowd of friends and colleagues from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. They crammed into the hospital room to give him something he said he never wanted — the 2015 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.

He accepted, however, borrowing a line from baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig in an impromptu bedside speech.

“Today I consider myself the luckiest man alive,” Dower said.

Luckier, still, were those who knew him.

“I’ve never had a better friend,” said veteran Louisiana sports writer Ted Lewis. “And where Bobby is concerned, I would imagine a lot of folks say that.”

“Professionally, he was in a rare group of sportswriters,” said another good friend, Glenn Quebedeaux, who will also receive the DSA award Saturday, June 27 as they are inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches. “More than that, he was a terrific human being.”

Dower thwarted earlier attempts to honor him with the DSA because he had, technically, been out of sports writing for more than 20 years.

But he never really left.

As one colleague said, “Bobby loved him some sports, but he loved newspapering even more.”

Both were deep in his blood.

He was still a member of the selection committee for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame at the time of his passing, just as comfortable as a voice of reason for that rowdy bunch as he was when dealing with politicians or business leaders as head of the American Press’ editorial board.

And he continued to have a huge influence on his newspaper’s sports section long after he’d moved over to the news side.

Dower began working for the American Press, part-time, right out of Lake Charles High School and was sports editor by the tender age of 24.

During his long career, he also served the American Press as news editor, editor in chief, managing editor and editorial page editor.

Best known during his sports days for his coverage of McNeese State athletics, he picked up all of the usual awards of his profession, all the while steadfast in his belief that the American Press could be everything to Lake Charles that newspapers in far larger cities were to theirs.

“He was always fair,” longtime McNeese sports information director Louis Bonnette said. “To the team, to the coach, to the player and to the sport. He had his way of writing a hard story but it was always a complete one.”

Fair. It’s a word that comes up often when remembering Dower.

The story is still told around the American Press of a long-ago day when some sports writers were calling coaches for preview stories of upcoming high school football games.

Midway through the day, with just a slight touch of irritation, Dower, then the sports editor, observed that, “I notice when you guys call the second coach, sometimes you tell him what the first coach said. I’m not sure that’s fair. If you’re going to do that, you’ve got to call the first coach back and tell him what his opponent said, too.”

His point was made.

“American Press readers, both friends and foes, knew him as someone who always found time to listen and who valued their opinions,” Beam said.

He was all of that.

But he was so much more.

Not long before he died, a young reporter was getting the run-around from an underling at an outlying, small town police station — and it was a firm and angry Dower who got on the telephone to explain to whoever was on the other end of the line that they were breaking the law by withholding an official police report from the media.

Crusty newsman?

Yes, he could be tough — passionately so.


He was also the guy who would stride into the office lunch room during one of the frequent, ladies-only lunchtime birthday parties and announce, “The entertainment is here! Who wants to see me dance?”

For that matter, a whole generation of Lake Charles kids, the sons and daughters of fellow American Press employees, grew up thinking that Santa Claus whistled.

The annual Christmas party the newspaper would throw for employees’ offspring was probably his favorite day of every year. He relished putting on the big red suit and striding through the squealing kiddies, then settling in to pass out the gifts, individually, to kids wild over the fact that Santa knew their name.

As one former employee’s now-grown daughter texted to him during his final days in the hospital, “You were the best Santa ever.”


Queb’s legacy: an innovator, a leader/servant

By Dan McDonald

Written for the LSWA

 

He didn’t get into this crazy sports journalism business for the awards, although they came – more than 50 from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association and the Associated Press, at last count.

He didn’t get into it because of the hours, since his passion for doing the best job he possibly could often took him away from family and more pleasurable interests.

He definitely didn’t do it for the money, but when he came back to South Louisiana in 1975 after four years in the Air Force, he was thrilled that the small-town Abbeville Meridional newspaper had a position for him. And Glenn Quebedeaux still hasn’t stopped thanking those early bosses, four decades later.

“I owe everything to Milo Nickel and B. I. Moody,” Quebedeaux said. “Milo gave me the opportunity to do things, offered me a position while I was going to college, and when I came back from the Air Force they found me a position at the Meridional. If not for them, I probably would have ended up doing something completely different.”

The rest of us should also thank those two, for spawning a career that has directly touched every sports journalist in Louisiana in some fashion, and indirectly touched every sports fan in the Bayou State.

Whether through the innovative ideas he brought to the New Iberia Daily Iberian for 15 years – ideas that were soon copied by larger and better-staffed papers – or his work for other papers around the state, through his leadership of the LSWA, or through his service to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, all of us who care about Louisiana sports are the better for it.

Because of all that, Quebedeaux is one of the recipients of the LSWA’s 2015 Distinguished Award in Sports Journalism, and the LSWA will honor him with Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction during the Induction Dinner and Ceremony Saturday, June 27 in Natchitoches.

It’s a long way from the Crowley Post Herald, for whom he covered his hometown Crowley High football and basketball beginning in 1970 while attending USL (now UL Lafayette). After his Air Force stint and two years at the Meridional, he took over as sports editor at the Daily Iberian in 1977.

Over the next decade and a half, the Iberian became an innovator in both style and content, despite the fact that the newspaper’s “staff” consisted of two people – Quebedeaux and Don Shoopman, who has now been with the paper for 39 years and is currently senior news editor as well as retaining his long-time outdoors editor title.

“Glenn cared about sports and teams, of course,” Shoopman said. “He loved to tell their stories. He had a soft spot in his heart for those people who made it big and never forgot where they came from.”

Awards soon began rolling in for the Iberian, including categories as diverse as deadline writing, column, spot news, headlines, makeup and section design. But it was much more than writing ... it was original ideas that made the Iberian unique.

Quebedeaux kept up with national layout and design trends, things that weren’t being done at other Louisiana papers, and the most radical was the paper’s use of an “agate” page. Every other state paper used the “agate” – the box scores, standings and listings that are an integral part of local and national sports coverage – along with related stories scattered throughout the paper.

The Iberian was the first in the state, and among the first nationally, to consolidate all that small type onto one page.

“People laughed at us,” Quebedeaux said. “Everyone said that nobody would ever look at a page like that.”

A couple of years later, other papers started following suit. Now everyone, from USA Today on down, uses some variation of the “agate” page.

The Iberian also ran entries and results from area horse tracks and betting lines on professional and college sports events, both considered taboo at the time but now a regular part of virtually every state daily. His coverage of college recruiting was also ground-breaking at a time where few people paid attention to the recruiting trails.

But it was always people, and not the ink and newsprint, that came first.

“First and foremost, Glenn is a people person,” Shoopman said. “He has umpteen stories, and he’ll tell one at the drop of a hat, then spin to another one.”

Those people skills served Quebedeaux well when he became involved with the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. For many years he was an integral part of the organization’s All-State selection committee and became one of that group’s most influential members, which in turn led to many student-athletes from his area earning those honors.

He also served, and continues to serve, on the LSWA’s Hall of Fame selection committee, but it was during his two-year term as president that the organization was perhaps its most active. In part because he felt he represented those who toiled at smaller papers, his term focused on increasing involvement in the LSWA from all papers large and small.

In part because of a regular monthly newsletter – one that was actually a letter, mailed to members in the time before e-mail and the internet – and regular communication on issues involving the organization, LSWA membership rose to an all-time high of 165 Louisiana sports journalists.

“He was such a mentor to so many young sportswriters, myself included,” said long-time friend and later LSWA president Philip Timothy. “With all he did in the LSWA, he made Louisiana and the LSWA well known in numerous sports departments and news rooms across the United States.”

After a year back in Crowley as sports editor, Quebedeaux entered private business as a Farm Bureau Insurance agent, a move that enabled him to spend more time with his growing family. But even after two decades in the insurance field, he has maintained ties with sports coverage and the LSWA. He was a correspondent for the Baton Rouge Advocate for much of that time, and continues to serve in the LSWA’s most thankless job of coordinating the group’s annual writing contest.

It is with no small bit of irony that Quebedeaux shares this year’s DSA honor with another long-time friend. Bobby Dower, one of the deans of southwest Louisiana journalism before his untimely and unexpected passing from cancer last July, is being honored posthumously at this year’s ceremonies after being presented with the DSA award shortly before his death.

“It’s an honor to be thought of in the same class as Bobby,” Quebedeaux said. “If ever there was a gentleman and a scholar, it was him. He was everything you would expect in a person ... class, dignity, intelligence. He was just a great guy.”

Those traits, of course, are shared in both ends of this year’s DSA class. And even though Quebedeaux is out of the day-to-day sports journalism business – and spending more and more time with his grandchildren and at his cabin on Bundick Lake – those who worked with him for all those years haven’t forgotten.

“Glenn did a great job covering the day-to-day sports well,” said long-time Iberian publisher Will Chapman, “but he also came up with innovative special sports features and packages to offer our readers. This honor for Glenn is well deserved.”

“He was one of the pillars of the LSWA,” Timothy said. “He was a tremendous innovator and pioneer in sports journalism, and he has the awards to prove it.”

“I believe he epitomizes the definition of sports writer,” Shoopman said. “That’s Glenn.”