With recent coaching changes at the two St. Charles Parish high schools, a pair of St. James Parish coaches has become veritable graybeards among football coaches in the River Parishes despite being under the age of 50.
Dwain Jenkins, with three years as St. James coach and four at Lutcher, has the longest consecutive streak of years served as a River Parish head coach outside of Frank Monica.
“It’s pretty unbelievable how fast things change,” the 40-year-old Jenkins said.
Monica, who has been coaching so long he likely knew Knute Rockne on a first-name basis, skewers all the numbers and is the exception to the trend of younger head coaches in the River Parishes.
Except for a one-year stint at Scotlandville, current St. James and former West St. John coach Robert Valdez has the longest overall tenure as a River Parish head coach behind Monica. He first became head coach at West St. John in 2008.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to embrace the ‘elder statesman’ so to speak,” the 46-year-old Valdez said.
In nine of the past 10 years, there has been a head coaching change among River Parish schools.
Does that say anything in particular about the status of high school football in the River Parishes?
“I think it’s the way athletics and high school athletics have evolved,” said Jenkins. “It’s kind of like the NFL acronym – Not For Long. Some people are moving on to bigger and better things like going to college like when Coach (Chris) Lachney was a Riverside and moved on.
“Also, in the River Parishes, we’ve also had some guys who had been around for a long time and really had successful careers and some of those guys retired, when you are taking about Coach (Stephen) Robicheaux and Coach (Tim) Detillier not that long ago and then Coach (Bill) Stubbs at Riverside.”
With the way the game of football on the high school level has evolved, particularly with the advent of wide-open spread offenses, has the role of head coach become a younger man’s game?
“One of the state associations at the National High School Football Coaches Alliance meeting, one of the topics was that it is getting harder and harder to keep coaches in the coaching profession. The head coaches, they feel, are getting younger and younger because they are getting into the middle part of their career at around age 40, were guys who used to stay around and coach until they retired and had 30-plus years in the system. Now you are seeing guys at 40 years old moving into other careers and getting out of coaching completely. I think that a lot of that has to do with the demands the coaching profession has,” said Jenkins.
“A ‘younger coach’s game,’ is something that can be looked at in different ways,” said Valdez. “Youngers coaches may not be as ready to line up with traditional fullback, tight end sets like a St. Charles Catholic.
“You look at the demographic of most of these programs there is a lot of athletic ability and athletes that can do various different things so you try to make it flexible. It does go with the times because most of the offenses that you see are wide-open.”
Still, old-school football still has its place.
“When you look at all these schools along the river, what makes it so special is we have unique talent,” said Valdez. “A lot of the guys coming in have knowledge with that, but then again, if you had a situation where you had adequate numbers of offensive linemen, defensive linemen, fullbacks and linebacker, you know what, I’m the type of guy that would just use it to demoralize you.
“I think Coach Monica does what he does at St. Charles Catholic fits what he does because that’s the type of kids he has. Other coaches have to become a little more astute and adjust to fit what’s in the building.”
If the trend among River Parish schools is to hire younger head football coaches, it’s equally apparent that the coaches being hired also come with previous head coaching experience.
Except for Riverside Academy’s Kevin Dizer, who was promoted as an assistant to the head job with the Rebels, all of the other seven coaches in the area came to their current positions with previous head coaching experience.
“I was an assistant and I was still young at the time but I had applied for several other head coaching positions and got to interviews and you got pretty favorable feedback on it but at the end of the day, the same thing came up every time I didn’t get a job. It all boiled down to not having head coaching experience,” said Jenkins, who left Lutcher as an assistant for the head job at St. James before his return to his alma mater.
“It became one of those deals where if you aspiration is to be a head coach, you get that person that is giving you that opportunity to be a head coach, you kind of have to take it,” Jenkins continued. “It’s so hard to break into it. It’s hard to get that first job as a head football coach.
“From an administration standpoint, right, wrong or indifferent, it’s the management piece of it. You find that guy who’s had some experience as a head coach and kind of sat in that chair before and has a little bit of experience, it’s a lot easier to pull the trigger and hire that person instead of that coordinator that’s never been a head coach.”
Most head football coaches in the River Parishes also serve as the school’s athletic director, so previous management also has become a factor in the hiring process, according to Valdez.
“When you get a job like this, you have to be able to have the expertise to handle the management,” said Valdez. “Sometimes, it’s almost like being an apprentice. You go somewhere else to get a valuable education.
“With these jobs, you are not just a football coach. You are like a community rep. You have to ben in tune not only with the coaching of a football game.”
Head football coaches in the River Parishes get to experience a bit of everything from weekly rival games to packed stadiums and now, unfortunately, the coronavirus.
Despite the disruption not only to coaching but to everyday lives because of the coronavirus, Jenkins said he is hopeful there could ultimately be some sort of silver lining.
“I kind of hope that one of the things is this whole pandemic had done as a coaching profession is that we learn there are a lot of ways to do things. Hopefully, using the technology that is available and learning how to be a little more efficient with your time and being able to spend more time with your family and we can start seeing some careers get extended again so my generation of coaches can continue in the profession as long as the generation that came before us.”