Bob Gros seemed to experience a bit of everything in his years as a football coach.
He was an early winner, capturing a state title his first year as a head coach at Hahnville in 1968 at the age of 29.
He also had a bit of luck on his way to winning a second state title at Hahnville in 1972.
Gros also spent several years as a college assistant before returning to the high school ranks at Central Lafourche and proved to be one of the game’s most adaptable coaches when it came to dealing with his personnel.
All of those attributes were recalled by area football coaches when they reminisced about Gros, a Thibodaux native, who passed away last Saturday at his home in Mathews at the age of 81.
Gros’ Hahnville squad of 1968 beat his future school, Central Lafourche, 14-7, in his first year as a head coach to capture the Class 2A title.
Four years later, luck proved to be on his side when the Tigers won the title again in 1972.
Hahnville finished in a three-way tie for second place in District 6-3A that year at 4-2. Morgan City won the league crown back in the days when only the top two teams from a district qualified for the playoffs.
Taking part in a three-way coin toss along with St. James and South Lafourche, luck was on the Tigers’ side as Hahnville advanced to the playoffs.
In the state championship game against Denham Springs, Hahnville and the Yellowjackets fought to a 26-26 tie. In the days before overtime, ties were settled in favor of the team with the most first downs. Hahnville finished the game with 16 first downs while Denham Springs had 13, thus allowing Gros and his Tigers to capture a second state title.
After six years, two state championships and 58 wins at Hahnville, Gros decided to give college coaching a try, becoming the offensive line coach at Nicholls State.
In 1980, Gros opted to return to the high school ranks as the head coach at Central Lafourche.
This time, there would be no instant success for Gros.
Inheriting a team that had gone 0-10 the year before, Gros’ first Trojans team went 3-6-1.
The team showed yearly improvement, going 5-5 the next year and 7-3 a year later. In 1983, his Trojans went 9-1 in the regular season, becoming the first Central Lafourche team to advance to the playoffs in 15 years.
A couple of undefeated regular seasons among yearly deep playoff runs followed. By the time Gros was done with the Trojans, he won 116 games as Central Lafourche coach, leading the team to the playoffs 10 times in 15 years.
Perhaps it was because of past coin flips recalled that made Gros a proponent of implementing a new wild card rule in 1984, recalled former Lutcher coach Tim Detillier.
“In 1984, we wouldn’t have made the playoffs,” recalled Detillier. “We were the defending state champs and we had a pretty good record. Bob Gros was one of the main guys who lobbied the principals and stuff. He got it pushed through.
“He was a bayou boy. There are all kinds of stories and stuff but that’s my fondest memory. That’s when I really got close to him when we got together and pushed it through. I give Bob Gros credit. He was a strong voice. Coaches respected him. Principals respected him.”
Well into his coaching career, Gros proved to be adept at changing his team’s style of play to fit his personnel.
“When I first got into coaching, I was at Higgins High School,” recalled Nick Saltaformaggio, the current head coach at Hahnville. “This is what I remember most about him: We played them and the first time we went to them, they were in the Power-I and that was with (running back) Jamie Lawson and all those guys and they beat us 7-6.
“The very next year we went to play them and they were four-wide. He had a big, tall skinny guy at quarterback that at that time, nobody ever heard of. It was (future LSU quarterback) Tommy Hodson. It impressed me that they were able to change their offensive from a run-heavy power football team to really doing what people kind of do now in the shotgun and throwing it all over the field. I was always so impressed with that.”
Don Rodrigue, a longtime fixture as an assistant coach in the bayou and river regions, recalled those days as well. Rodrigue was an assistant coach at H.L. Bourgeois when Gros was at Hahnville and was an assistant coach at Nicholls when Gros was at Central Lafourche.
“He had Jamie Lawson and he had a running back named Chuck Rogers,” Rodrigue remembered. “Jamie went to LSU (and later transferred to Nicholls) and Rogers went to Louisiana Tech. The offensive line was tremendous and they ran the ball. The quarterback was Tommy Hodson and they didn’t throw the ball much. Tommy Hodson’s senior year, the offensive line was new and the running backs. He (Gros) took the offense and made it a spread offense like they are doing today.
“They went two or three games into the playoffs and they had a receiver (Bart Robicheaux) that caught 110 balls and we (Nicholls) signed him. He (Gros) had the ability to see the talent he had and he changed his whole offense.”
One of the reasons for that success, according to Randy Breaux, who served as an assistant under Gros and was later Central Lafourche’s head coach, was because the change was not as radical as it appeared to opponents.
“It was just a tweak,” said Breaux, who was an assistant at Central Lafourche from 1980-1994 and Trojans head coach from 1995-2002. “Nothing changed like terminology. It looked different to the people that played against us but for the kids that played for us, it was the same stuff. One year we ran a double-slot with Wing-T motion and stuff but we didn’t change the words we used. We didn’t change the language or system. That was probably one of the best things he would do.”
Saltaformaggio, as Tigers coach, later met Gros when Hahnville was honoring one of Gros’ state championship teams.
“He was a legend. I always like to shake hands with a legend, especially one that has done so much for Louisiana prep football.”