We live in a part of the country where you don’t need Google Maps to find the local high school football game on Friday nights. Just look for the hazy halo of lights in different pockets of the city and point your vehicle in that direction. If you end up at venerable Lee Hedges Stadium between Youree and Kings, Memorial Stadium at Bossier High with the sun setting over the river, in between the tall pines of Northwood, or any other high school football showplace, you will be treated to some of the best high school football in the land.
Leading the young men on the field are a bevy of coaches falling all over the experience spectrum—Jason Brotherton is in his first year as a head coach, leading his alma mater at Haughton, while Fair Park’s Mike Greene is in his 23rd year as a head coach.
Recently, we sat down for a roundtable discussion with a solid cross-section of our local coaching landscape. Public and Private. White and Black. This fraternity is close-knit, which trickles down through their respective staffs, and more importantly, to the young men they lead.
HAS THE JOB OF “COACHING” CHANGED DURING YOUR TIME?
Bo Meeks, Airline (17th year in coaching, 10th as a head coach):
“You’ve got to be able to run the ball, no matter what you do. You go to the (Super)Dome (site of all football state championship games) and see how many teams run the football well and stop the run. That’s what it boils down to, regardless of what scheme you do. You’ve got to believe in what scheme you run. The ultimate thing is, how well can you get your kids to perform on Friday nights. That’s what it boils down to. Do the kids believe in what you do and can you get them to play their best on Friday night.”
Jerwin Wilson, Woodlawn (12th year in coaching, 4th as a head coach):
“I grew up playing against Haynesville and running a similar offense that they run at Byrd. Even though I run the spread offense, I find myself diving back into that playbook and running similar things. You’re just trying to use all 53 and a third (yards—width of a football field), still running the same type of plays, just moving more pieces around.”
Steven Geter, Loyola (16th year in coaching, 6th as a head coach):
“You’ve got to find your identity, get your kids to believe in it. Teach the details every day and have them believe in the details, be good at what you’re doing and let the rest take care of itself. Motivate your kids every day. When they show up, make sure they have some juice. It’s easy on Friday nights, they’re going to be pumped up. Monday through Thursday, it’s eight weeks during the summer, are they showing up every day, giving everything they’ve got at that point in time? It all comes down to the battle up front. Running the football, stopping the run. You’ve got to be able to do it. If not, it’s going to be a long day.”
WHEN YOU HAVE A PLAYER WHO HAS NEEDS THAT AREN’T BEING MET AT HOME, HOW DO YOU HANDLE IT?
Mike Greene, Fair Park (29th year in coaching, 23rd as a head coach):
“If you’ve built your team how you want, the guys…they’re going to take care of each other. That’s what I found through the years. I’ve got a lot of guys that will come to me and say, ‘Coach. This guy needs this, he’s having trouble with that.’ When you get that family atmosphere, believe it or not, when you watch the news and it appears the world is falling apart…when you get to school, it’s a bunch of kids trying to do the same thing. They’re worried about their little world. They might be mad at each other one day just like a family, but the next they’re coming to us and saying, ‘Coach, he needs some new shoes.’ It’s amazing how it works out.”
Jason Brotherton, Haughton (19th year in coaching, 1st as a head coach):
“The unique thing for us, these guys have gone to school together forever. Those kids don’t think that way, they’ve been friends since Kindergarten. It doesn’t register to them that, ‘Oh, he has nothing, we have a lot.’ They go to each other’s houses, parents cook for everyone. If your football team, like Coach Greene said, is built the way you want it to be, then there’s nobody starving on your football team.”
“Every day you try to plant a seed in their life. Each day, you teach character, you teach values. Those same things you teach your own kids, every day, you have that platform and have that opportunity…take 15 minutes to just talk to them. Some kids will come to your office and you’ll talk about some serious things going on in their lives, some may not talk to you about anything. It may be five years after they leave, they’ll come back and tell us, ‘Coach, some of the things you taught me really helped me through this situation,’ and we may not have known they were dealing with a situation at that time.”
John Bachman, Calvary Baptist (34th year in coaching, 9th as a head coach):
“We all get the message about the kid that’s going through something. We may not be the solution. If I have a kid that I’ve heard has gone through some things in his life, I’ll call him in and ask him, ‘How’s your life?’ Some will open up to you right away. I tell them, I may not be the one you need to talk to but there is someone you need to talk to. You don’t need to carry this by yourself.”
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
“What gets me about fans…to think we would play someone who wasn’t the best player for that position…that’s asinine. You have to have thick skin, especially as big as football is where we are, you know you’re going to get criticized. One of Coach Greene’s (Mike was head coach at Airline prior to Coach Meeks) former players lit me up on a message board last year after a game, ‘I’m the dumbest person that ever lived.’
“What I’m still not used to is, AAU basketball is a problem with football. All these kids think they can be LeBron or Steph Curry. The biggest problem isn’t necessarily football, it’s AAU basketball.”
Curtis Evans, Green Oaks (18th year in coaching, 3rd as head coach):
“I had a kid miss three or four workouts because he had to play in a basketball tournament.”
“It’s not just AAU, it’s Showcase baseball as well.”
“When did high school become a minor league program for the pro’s?”
Mike Suggs, Byrd (31st year in coaching, 20th as head coach):
“There’s people out there making money at it. There are coaches quitting the profession because they can make more money giving private lessons at $60/hour. And they don’t have to win or lose a game…and there are parents who think they (private instructors) are the greatest coaches in the world. ‘I pay him $60 bucks an hour to teach little Johnny to hit and he goes up in a game and gets a hit, that guy is over there beating his chest; if he doesn’t (get a hit), it’s the coaches fault. We need to go back to the private coach more…if Johnny gets a couple of hits, it’s great because he taught him.’ That private coach is in a no-lose situation”
“And the private coaches will point out things that we didn’t do right.”
DIFFERENCE IN KIDS TODAY COMPARED TO YESTERYEAR
“The cell phone and iPad. Kids don’t talk to each other anymore, they text. Kids don’t listen anymore. They don’t have retention or listening skills. Nowadays, compared to years ago, how many times do you have to repeat yourself? Everything is visual to them. I run a drill called, ‘Listening Skills.’ I cannot stand having to repeat myself over and over. We line them up…now it’s a tough drill and we’ve been doing it for years, but it gets their attention on how they’re not focused.”
“The inability to listen, just to focus their eyes. Even when they do that, sometimes they’re not listening.”
“They have to be entertained. Classrooms are the same way. You can’t just stand up there and lecture. You have to have pictures and video. It’s got to be a production; they have to be entertained.”
“And some old man, standing up there and talking to them isn’t entertaining at all.”
“If I say it once, and say it again and again. Ten minutes later, I’ll ask them to repeat what I said, and they’ll look at me: ‘Huh?’ With me, it’s constant repetition. Whatever I tell them on Monday, I tell them again on Tuesday.
“Talking doesn’t affect these kids. They really want to see it. (Assistant) Coach (Husher) Calhoun talks to the team before I do. At the end of practice, I try to talk to them for less than two minutes—at the end of the day? It’s over with after two minutes.”
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL’S ROLE ON A LARGER SCALE
“Coaches have a tremendous responsibility, probably more so now than any other time in our country, to tell our young men that you ARE our future. I tell our kids all the time. ‘If you want to be black, be black. If you want to be white, be white. You want to be Baptist, be Baptist. You want to be Catholic, be Catholic. At the end of the day you have to decide what you want to be together. If we can do it here (in locker room), why can’t we walk out the door and take it with us out on the field.’”
“We probably spend more time with the kids than their parents, especially fathers, because so many of them there is no dad at home. We have one player whose mom goes to work at 4am. He’s trying to get to workouts, with nobody at home to get him up and get him there. Somebody picks him up and brings him, and then takes him home…that’s the role we all share. There is no father at home to show him right and wrong.
I bring my kids to the office. Our three year old rides his bike around the office. I think it’s important for our players to see what the family is supposed to look like, what we want the family to be. My wife is always up there…kids are there. I’ve continued what Coach (Rodney) Guin instilled in us.”
“Being a parent, how would you want your kids treated. Wait till your kid turns 9 or 10 years old and you go to a ballgame and coach takes him or her out, doesn’t start or doesn’t get to play. That feeling that goes up the back of your neck and that comment you want to make…a little reality sets in when momma and daddy ask you why their son isn’t playing.”
“Our baby was born my first year as head coach. One of the things I do with my staff is give them Saturday’s off. Saturday is your family time. Let’s meet on Sunday early so you can spend more time with your family Sunday night. I have a policy at my house that I put into play…or my wife put into play: no football after 9 o’clock. No text messages, no film, no HUDL, no nothing. That’s your family time from 9 until. I turn off the iPad and play with him. Even if we lost on Friday, seeing him pop his head up Saturday morning and be happy to see Daddy, takes the burden of the loss off my back. I leave the loss at school and be happy playing with my kid, focusing on my wife and little one.”
Would you do it all over again?
“Without a doubt. There’s nothing else I can see myself doing. High School football is the one place where kids who have everything, or don’t have anything, are on the same plane.”
“It’s fun. No doubt. I watched my dad do it. I knew I was going to do it when I was 8 years old, that probably makes me weird. I talk to friends of mine that do other things…what do they want to talk about? What I do. They want to talk about what we do at Haughton…it’s fun.”
“I love getting up in the morning, going to practice and getting to hang out with these guys. Teach them a little bit about football; teach them a lot about life and have them teach me a lot about life, also. I love it. Nothing I would rather do.”
“My degree was actually in business, but I went back for teaching and coaching. It’s one of the biggest impacts we can make on 15-19 year olds’ lives—I saw Tre’Davious (White, senior all-American at LSU, Green Oaks class of 2013 valedictorian) at Mo Claiborne’s camp…to have him say, ‘Thank you, Coach,’ for the way we impacted him at Green Oaks. Being a teacher and coach is one of the only ways you can impact a kids’ life from the first time they step foot on your campus.”
“Growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to catch kids who needed help. I really sat down and thought about that one day…I was just starting college, working at Ruston Parks and Recreation…I don’t know anything about golf, but I’m showing these kids how to play golf; they thought I knew everything. At the end of that day, I realized I wanted to reach kids before they needed a lawyer. Getting to coach has changed my life. I believe it’s a calling and I think that it’s a calling for everybody at this table. The biggest part now is developing these lifelong relationships with kids that leave your program.”
“No doubt. Like Jerwin said, it was a calling. The only thing the matter with this country is, there hasn’t been a retired coach run for President yet. That’s what needs to happen, because, you talk about someone who knows how to handle everybody and every situation…that’s what we need to straighten a lot of things out.”
“As a young man, I did have a head coach speak into my life. He told me basically, I don’t know what you’ll do—but like Geter said—find something you love waking up and doing every day. I was going to be a geologist, because at that time that’s where the money was. Then I thought of me, sitting behind a desk with a tie on. ‘That’s not me. I’m not doing this for the right reason. Who are the guys who influenced my life? Who are the guys I love? I loved my coaches because they were great men.’ So I switched over to education and the rest is history. The simple fact is, that team we put together sees only one color—the color we’re wearing.”
“I don’t get asked this question much anymore, I get asked, ‘When are you gonna’ quit?!’ Of course, I’d do it all over again. If you’ve done it as long as we have, you were meant to be in it. I tell our kids, it’s more important to get up in the morning and enjoy what you’re going to do. Don’t put a price tag on anything.”