Put me in, coach

By Jake Chapman

Aside from the President of the United States, there is probably no one more beloved or hated than a head football coach.  He can either be celebrated as a living legend or reviled as a stain of the community.  Everyone loves them when they are winning.  If they lose a few games, or just one big game, and there are For Sale signs in the coach’s front yard.  In our microwave, “win now or else” society it can be tough.  At the NFL and NCAA ranks, we regularly see coaches that are unceremoniously dismissed after one season.  Or in some cases, they are fired because they can’t win “the Big One.”  I know I’ve personally seen the Minden community drop the beloved Crimson Tide like a bad date to the prom after they lose one or two games early in the season.  But I digress.

When it comes to high school football, one doesn’t have to look very far within the state of Louisiana before you find coaches that have earned that legendary status.  According to a 2022 Geaux Preps article, John T. Curtis, coaching 50+ years at the school that bears his name, is only the second coach ever in the country to win more than 600 games.  Curtis has won TWENTY-EIGHT Louisiana State Championships and has been State Runner-Up TEN times.  That’s wild. 

Lesser known in these parts is the St. Thomas More (Lafayette, LA), Jim Hightower, entering his 50th year coaching with 460 victories. Then there is thirty-six-year veteran, Lewis Cook, from Notre Dame (not THAT Notre Dame.  The one in Crowley, LA) with 392 wins.  The next two on the all-time wins list in Louisiana are somewhat local guys.  Coach Alton “Red” Franklin racked up 365 wins in his 35-year tenure at Haynesville.  He is second to John T. Curtis with eleven State Championships.  Then rounding out the Top-5 is the late Don Shows from West Monroe with 345 wins.  Shows won eight State Championships in his thirty-two-year career. 

These guys are the exception, not the norm.  Although every bleacher bum, cyclone fence-hanger and armchair quarterback has-been expects it of their local team’s coach, not every high school can boast of these otherworldly accomplishments but must endure the gloriously victorious years along with the heart-wrenching ones.  This holds true for my beloved Crimson Tide.   While this current season isn’t one for the record books, I think you will see that things aren’t as bad as they seem when you consider the bigger picture.

Minden’s head coach is unknown from its earliest football playing year in 1909 until 1914. The first head coach’s name mentioned at Minden High School was Melvin “Stubb” Johnson.  He coached the local team for four seasons from 1915 until 1918 posting an 11-7-1 record.  

The next four seasons, Minden was plagued with “one-and-dones” with Albert Harrington (1919, 1-4 record), Dan Stewart (1920, 2-3-2 record), and (first name unknown) Spencer (1922, 3-3-1 record).  Sandwiched in that group in 1921 was Ernest “Red” Woodard.  Woodard led Minden to a 9-1 record finishing as the State Runner-up.  That year Minden outscored their opponents 284-7.  The ONLY score they allowed that year was in the State Championship game versus Warren Easton.  The final score was (drum roll) 7-0.

Following that group was another smattering of head coaches.  Minden’s 1917 first team All-State Quarterback, Prentiss M. Hough, returned to coach four seasons at Minden from 1923 to 1926.  Then Pete Dutton (1927, 4-4 record), (first name unknown) Hearron (1928, 3-6 record), Newton C. Helm (1929-1930, 8-9-1 record), and Clarence Geis (1931-1935, 20-24-1 record).  

Alvin “Cracker” Brown coached the freshly minted Crimson Tide from 1936 to 1939 with a record of 24-13-2 and winning Minden’s first State Championship in 1938.  Minden’s record was 11-1 and they outscored their opponents 406-70.  They shocked the state beating Opelousas on their home turf 34-6.  According to a Ville Platte Gazette article, the locals weren’t just shocked on the field, but also in their pocketbooks when the local betting ring lost an estimated $5,000 (more than $100,000 today).  Minden covered the 16-point spot, too, by the way.

Joe Oliphant coached the Crimson Tide from 1940 to 1950 with a two-year gap in 1943 and 1944 while he served in World War II.  There was no football played at MHS during that time. Coach Oliphant had previously served as an assistant coach to Alvin “Cracker” Brown during his tenure.  While Coach Oliphant earned a sub .500 record of 30-46-5 as head coach, he had already captured the hearts of the Minden High School community.  His name lives on as it is attached to the award given to the best Male Athlete each year at Minden High School.  

Enter, the Golden Age of Minden Football.  Following Oliphant was George Doherty.  Coach Doherty only coached at Minden for six years, but they were influential.  So much so that Minden donned the moniker “Domus Victorum” (Latin: “Home of Champions”) during this time.  Doherty won 73% of his games with 50 victories on his ledger, which his third all-time (50-18-2).  Doherty won three District Championships (1953, 1954, 1956) and two State Championships (1954, 1956).  Coach Doherty’s name co-habits with former principal, W.W. Williams, on an annual award recognizing a community leader for their support of Minden High School.  My tag team partner on Friday nights, Mark Chreene, and I are both proud recipients of this award.  

The Domus Victorum kept rolling with Elton Kelly.  Coach Kelly matched Oliphant’s longest tenure of nine years from 1957 to 1965.  Kelly has the most wins at Minden with 63 coincidentally winning 63% of his games (63-36-4).  Kelly led the Crimson Tide to either the District title spot or runner up in every year he coached except for 1961 and 1965.  The 1961 sophomore-laden team took their lumps with a 1-9 record but would go on to have the only undefeated record in Minden history in 1963 (14-0) on their way to Minden’s fourth State Championship.  Coach Kelly also has an annual award in his honor.

The next decade was pretty rough on the Crimson Tide faithful. Coaches Billy Roach (1966-1969), Joe Stewart (1970-1972) and Jerry Fausett (1973-1976) had a combined record of 40-67-2 with no playoff appearances.  

However, the next decade the Tide would return to their winning ways.  Charles Herrington coached six seasons (1977-1982) with a record of 46-23.  He mirrored the efforts of Elton Kelly either winning the District Championship or finishing as runner-up in all his seasons except for one.  Herrington won the District Championship three consecutive seasons from 1979 to 1981.  The Tide was 30-8 during that stretch and won the State Championship in 1980 in “The Pit”.  

Coach Steve Brasher would carry the mantle after Herrington.  Brasher coached from 1983 to 1991, matching the 9-year stints of Oliphant and Kelly.  Brasher posted a record of 58-41 with the most success coming in the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons.  During that time Minden’s went 28-7 and won the District Championship twice and was runner up the other season.  Everyone wonders what might have been after losing a heartbreaker in 1986 to Wossman by one touchdown in the 2nd round of the playoffs, a team they’d beaten earlier in the season 21-7.  That was their only loss that season.  

History repeats itself.  Just as it did following Doherty and Kelly, Minden once again fell on several years of tough sledding following the success of Herrington and Brasher.  Once Brasher departed, Minden had its first and only African American coach in Stepfret Williams, Sr.  “Coach Step” was head coach for only one season in 1992 finishing with a record of 3-6.  Following Coach Step was Ronnie Whatley, a long-time assistant dating back to the late 1970s.  Whatley would have the longest tenure at Minden High School coaching for 11 seasons from 1993 to 2003.  Coach Whatley coached a record 114 games, but unfortunately, didn’t win very much with a record of 34-80.  Whatley had no greater season than a 5-6 record, of which he had three.  He led the Tide to four playoff appearances, but after the Tide’s only winless season ever in 2003, Coach Whatley decided to hang up his head coach’s whistle. 

After Whatley came journeyman head coach, David Feaster.  Coach Feaster (2004-2006, 25-11 record) led a scrappy bunch of players to three consecutive playoff appearances including a run to the State Semi-Finals in 2006, their only loss was to the “University of Bastrop” in the final game of that season. 

The next few years Minden had three more coaches experiencing .500 football: Alan Ensminger led the team for one season to a respectable 4-6 record but failed to make the playoffs.  “Coach E” currently serves as the Defensive Coordinator for the Crimson Tide.  Following Ensminger was Eric Middleton (2008-2009, 11-11 record) and Randy Peters (2010-2012, 15-18 record) both earning two playoff appearances during their short stays in Minden.  

Which leads us to the current era.  Spencer Heard began his tenure in 2013 and is currently in his 11th season as head coach, tying Ronnie Whatley for the longest reign as head coach.  This season Heard surpassed Whatley’s mark for most games coached at Minden with the meter still running.  

During the Heard era, Minden has a record of 62-55, which brings Heard to 2nd place in wins and needs just two more victories to surpass Coach Kelly to become the winningest head coach in Minden History.  This could happen by the end of this season.  Heard has also made more history at Minden with eight consecutive playoff appearances from 2014 to 2021 with two Quarterfinal exits.  Heard won the District Championship in 2014 and was runner-up in 2016.  While he may not have the number of District Championships or a State Championship to his name, Heard achieved something no other Minden coach has – Coach of the Year (2014).  The Louisiana Sport Writers Association established the award in each classification in 1962.  You’re wondering about 1963, aren’t you?  Minden’s only perfect season and State Championship year?  The Class 3A winner was Lynn LeBlanc.  He coached the LaRose-Cutoff team that Minden beat in the State Championship game. 

So, it’s true this season hasn’t been great.  There are boo-birds and mully-grubbers aplenty when things aren’t going well.  But I hope you can see the bigger picture. There are ebbs and flows to each season, but Minden has had a consistently competitive program over the past decade-plus.  

The Domus Victorum might have dust on it and the paint may be chipped.  And to an ever growing number of folks in the community, it has been put away in the cellar.  Perhaps one day Minden will rise to the top again.  But if history teaches us anything, it’s tough to stay there.  Come back down to reality and “pledge anew to Minden, dear old Minden High” win, lose or draw, no matter the cost.  The school and football program will be better for it, and then you can say you were there when…