The road to high school football prominence has detours where broken dreams, untapped potential and struggles to win are seemingly the only route available. It’s a saga that is repeated year after year at metropolitan/urban public schools across the nation.
Tara High’s Cooter Mansur and Glen Oaks’ Donald Clark want a happy ending. The two veteran coaches are working to reverse two links in the Baton Rouge cycle.
“This has all been kind of a whirlwind for me,” Mansur said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen this fast. I didn’t anticipate it, but I’m more than happy to take on the challenge.”
The 49-year-old Clark has been down the road before. Clark previously served as head coach at Lee High and also was the interim coach at Lee, Scotlandville and Glen Oaks.
In fact, Clark was interim coach at GOHS the past two seasons. In July, 2012, Vernon Langley was hired, ending Clark’s first interim stint. He got the GOHS head job in March.
“When I saw coach (Bill) Bofinger (former Lee High coach) at an indoor track meet he told me, ‘Donald, you’ve got the title,’ ” Clark recalls. “And I said ‘What title?’ He said, ‘Most interim titles.’
“I think those roles have hurt me. You’re known as the guy who’s in the clean up role. And then when someone else gets the job you’re almost like an outsider even though you know the kids.
“I thought about that a lot before I applied for the job. You know, do you set yourself up to be dropped on your head again? I decided to give it one last shot.”
Because he was an assistant during GOHS’ 1-8 season a year ago, Clark knows exactly what he is getting into. The same is true for the 52-year-old Mansur, who spent 15 years in private business after a stint as head coach at Bishop Sullivan, now St. Michael the Archangel, in the 1990s.
Mansur left a telecommunications industry job last fall to return to education/coaching. He was a special teams coach for the Trojans, who finished 3-6. Mansur also was a nonfaculty coach at Redemptorist from 2005-09. Like Clark, he was hired during the spring.
“I know where I’ve come from, and I know what happened here last year,” Mansur said. “I’ve talked with some coaches who have been in East Baton Rouge Parish, and I believe there are some positive things that can be done and done the right way. But it’s going to take time and a lot of resources.”
Since 2006, Clark is the sixth head coach for Glen Oaks. Mansur is Tara’s fifth head coach during the same time span.
Class 4A Tara hasn’t advanced to the playoffs since 2008. Glen Oaks, which dropped from 4A to 3A enrollment a couple of years ago, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009. Neither school has had a winning season since.
GOHS was a powerhouse throughout the 1990s under Nolan Gill, making a couple of semifinal appearances. Tara has enjoyed on-again and off-again success over the years but is best know for winning a Class 4A state title in 1974.
Size — as in roster size — is an issue for both schools. At one point last season Glen Oaks had about 30 players, many of whom were playing varsity football for the first time. Tara’s roster has fluctuated between 35 and 45 in recent years.
“Right now we have 45 kids participating in the summer workouts,” Mansur said. “In the past, they’ve told me it’s maybe been 20 to 25, so that’s good. “But when you’re a 4A school you need to have more than 35 or 40 kids. We beat the bushes at school and talked to kids and got some more kids out.”
Clark said Glen Oaks dressed out 40 players for its spring game, a 6-6 tie with Redemptorist, and notes about 35 players are participating in an offseason program.
“The biggest thing I’ve had to do is convince people this is a stable situation,” Clark said. “I let them know that I’ll be here every day. At first, only a few came, but now the participation is up.”
The number of assistant coaches also is up. Langley, the most recent GOHS coach, and former Istrouma head coach McKinney Evans are set to be assistants at Tara. Greg Thompson, a track coach most recently at Scotlandville who was previously at Glen Oaks, is set to join Clark.
Tara recently purchased about 70 new helmets based on last year’s budget. New THS Principal Karen Triche is working with Mansur to help promote corporate partnerships and sponsorship. Plans to increase the 25 to 30-member booster club also are in the works.
The purchase of a digital video system is a priority for the fall that the booster club is working on, said Mansur, who used his business contacts to get added Internet access in the locker room.
“I’m working with some alumni from Tara,” Mansur said. “They are interested in helping and doing things. Football is the most expensive sport, and we need as booster club that can serve all the teams.
“We’re trying to get our program where it needs to be in a lot of ways. We need to take these changes to the athletes and show them this isn’t the same old Tara. Their expectations will have to increase along with the other things we’re doing.”
Clark and GOHS Principal Prince E. Gray, Jr. are working on summer fundraisers to help Glen Oaks purchase two new sets of uniforms. Updated helmets and shoulder pads will be needed in the not-too-distant future. Clark knows more than money and uniforms are needed.
“We’ve got to keep Glen Oaks athletes at Glen Oaks,” Clark said. “Over the past few years Glen Oaks has lost students to schools inside and outside our system. We’ve got to draw the alumni base and the community back to the school.”
Clark, a track standout at Zachary High and the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said Glen Oaks’ on-campus stadium that debuted last year should give the Panthers a leg up on some programs.
Tara and Glen Oaks plan to run a version of the spread offense. On defense, GOHS will use a 4-2-5, while Tara will use a 3-3 set.
“I’ve gotten some perspective by talking to the younger guys coming up in coaching,” said Mansur, a standout player at Redemptorist and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “And then there’s the old school way. But it still comes down to blocking and tackling.”
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