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Former St. James Wildcat coach Gaille dead after battle with cancer

  • Tags:
  • Coaches
  • By:
  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • July 01, 2018 - 2:26pm

Rick Gaille, shown conducting his last spring practice in 2011, guided St. James that spring even though his successor had already been named. He won 169 games as Wildcats coach.

Rick Gaille, who won 169 games as head coach of St. James from 1992-2010 and led the Wildcats to three appearances in the state championship game, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer, his wife, Elaine, announced via his Facebook account.

“As you all know my husband has always been a competitor in everything he has ever done,” she wrote. “And yes, he fought until the very last breath he took today.

“Our family would like to express our gratitude for the overwhelming love and support Rick and our family has received over the past year.”

She followed by quoting the following poem:

“Strangely enough, this appeared right after his death and I feel it truly was the last message he has for all of us....

is not Measured
by the breaths we take,
but by the Moments
that take our Rick
breath away.”
- Maya Angelou

Gaille, 67, had a record of 169-72 in 19 years as head coach of the Wildcats. Three of Gaille’s teams reached the state championship with St. James falling 38-21 to Amite in the 1994 finals, 28-27 to Evangel in 1996 and 28-13 to John Curtis in 2007.

Gaille’s 2006 and 2008 teams lost in the state semifinals. The Wildcats lost 17-14 to district rival St. Charles Catholic in 2006 and 31-7 to Evangel in 2008.

“It’s a sad day in Wildcat Nation. Coach Gaille meant so much to the branding of St. James High School football. He will be missed. The legacy he left behind is one we will try to uphold and build on it,” said Robert Valdez, the current St. James coach.

A key to Gaille’s success was his mastering of the Wing-T offense, according to many of his contemporaries.

“There are Wing-Ts and then there is Coach Gaille’s Wing-T,” said Tim Detillier, who competed against Gaille as coach of rival Lutcher. “I’ve never seen anybody run the Wing-T be so efficient and he ran the option with that. You had to work a little extra when you were facing Rick Gaille.”

Don Rodrigue, who was an assistant at St. James from 1993-2009, said Gaille was a good head coach to work for.

“He allowed you to coach. A lot of head coaches want to micromanage. He didn’t do that. If you did your job, he turned you loose. That was one of the advantages of working with him,” Rodrigue said.

Gaille approached dealing with cancer much the same way he did as a football coach, many agreed.

“It was typical Rick Gaille fashion. He’s always been a fighter. He was posting and educating people on it as he went through chemo through social media. It was typical of who he was. He handled it with a lot of class, optimism and faith. He went down fighting a good fight,” Valdez said.

“In trying to schedule people that didn’t want to play us, he would say, ‘We’ll play them anywhere. We will play in the parking lot and we will fight them on the ice.’ He was still fighting on the ice,” said Rodrigue.

Detillier, a cancer survivor, said Gaille battled cancer to the very end.

“Cancer is tough but pancreatic cancer is very tough. I think it’s undefeated. In my experience with it with my family and myself, it seems like pancreatic cancer is just another level. They just haven’t been able to conquer that one. Rick fought it as hard and long as anyone I’ve known,” said Detillier.

Only four games into his first season as St. James coach in 1992, Gaille’s Wildcats had surpassed the team’s win total of the previous two years combined. The Wildcats won their first nine games that season before losing 28-6 to E.D. White in Week 10. SJH went on to reach the quarterfinals that year, losing 35-19 to Amite, the defending state champion.

Gaille began his career at Chalmette High in 1974. He was the offensive coordinator of the Owls’ offensive coordinator from 1977-78 when Gaille installed the Wing-T offense. After spending one spring at the University of Delaware learning the Wing-T, Chalmette posted an 8-2 mark in its first year under the new offense.

Gaille served as offensive coordinator at Rummel until moving on to Tulane University as an assistant under Vince Gibson and Wally English. He then went to Bonnabel and remained there until being hired at St. James.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.