High school coaches enjoy happy returns

By By Albert Burford / American Press

The Louisiana high school football coaching scene is a stew of locals, ex-players, family ties and constant change. But some coaches are lucky enough

to find themselves roaming the sidelines of the same high school fields on which they once spent countless Friday nights.

The high volumes of pride and passion that go hand in hand with high school football are both a blessing and a curse for those

who now coach at the high schools they once attended.

Barbe coach Mike Cutrera, who played safety and quarterback for the Bucs in the late 1970s and early 1980s, said it was never

his intention as a student to return to Barbe.

“At one time in my senior year, some coaches told me I should go into coaching and I told them they were crazy because they

didn’t make enough money,” he said.

But after a year in college, Cutrera changed his major and committed himself to a return to the football field.

The same goes for Oakdale coach

Randall Gordon, who played offensive and defensive line for the

Warriors in the early 1990s. Gordon said he never considered

his future while he was in high school, but after an unsuccessful

stint as a walk-on at McNeese, he began to ponder a future

in coaching.

“The walk-on thing is really tough.

Weights in the morning, being a practice dummy and never getting to play

any games that

first year,” he said. “I was coming from Oakdale and didn’t know

how all that worked. I didn’t know you really get your chance

in the spring. That was all real new to me. Then, when I stopped

playing at the end of the season, it was just no more football

and that was a hard deal for me. It was my passion all my life. So

being in coaching brings your Friday nights back.”

Basile coach Tony Bertand, an offensive guard and defensive tackle for Bearcats in the late 1980s, took a different path to

a coaching career.

“I was really influenced by my high school coaches,” he said. “Not that they pressured me to be a coach, but I enjoyed working

a lot with my high school coaches. Of course coaches want to have a positive influence on the kids they coach and they had

a positive influence on me, so that’s what I decided to do way back in high school.”

While Cutrera and Bertand were hired out of college by their high school alma maters, Gordon had stints at Iowa and Kinder

before getting an opportunity to come home.

“Once I started coaching, I knew I

wanted to come back home and coach the home team and be close to my

family, because my

family is still around here,” he said. “And you have that pride

for your high school team that you want to see them do good.

You always check the papers and watch them. I always knew I wanted

to come back and I knew that Oakdale’s a good football

school.”

With familiarity and local ties come

high expectations to perform at the school where everybody knows the old

ballplayer-turned-coach.

“The community puts pressure on you,

too,” Gordon said. “They know you have that pride, they’ve seen you

play. They’ve been

to your games. Now they’re going to your games as a coach and they

expect to see the players perform as you did as a player,

if not better.”

But for all the pressure, the coaches all said they use their experience at the school as a way to relate to their players.

Many coaches are coaching former teammates’ songs or nephews. The coaches’ obvious dedication to the school also helps build

bonds with their athletes.

“They know where I come from, because

they’re here too,” Bertrand said. “I tell my kids all the time, there’s

really no other

place I want to go to work every day. And they trust me. They’ve

seen that I came to school here, I’ve been here for so long.

It makes for a good relationship between me and the kids because

we have that connection.”