It really didn’t take much to get Bill Stubbs back where he belonged.
Although the longtime New Orleans area football coach left the sideline in 2001 after 15 years at Salmen, Stubbs didn’t exactly retire.
He never really left the game, either, spending his 10-year hiatus working to develop a training regimen to help athletes increase their durability and speed.
The game never really left him either. Although happily employed, Stubbs said there were times when he wondered, “what if.”
“It was the greatest time of my life,” Stubbs said. “You look back on it and you have great memories. There’s always those little pieces and parts that say, ‘Man. Wouldn’t it be great to do that again?’”
So when Riverside Academy came calling last year after its longtime coach, Mickey Roussel, stepped down following the 2011 season, Stubbs allowed himself to be wooed. And it didn’t take long for him to realize that it was the right decision.
“The first couple of times on the sideline, there was a little bit of … reflection,” he said. “It was, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’”
And although he said being “back on grass” was “like riding a bike,” he still had some catching up to do.
“It was extremely challenging,” he said. “It is fast-paced. A lot of things have changed over the course of 10 years. But in football, one thing remains constant. It’s a tough, hard-nosed, get-after-it game. Those things never change. Some of the nuances of the game have changed a little bit: You know, people throwing the ball like they’re doing, people trying to play a little more exotic defenses and things like that.”
Things had to change for the players as well. There were changes to the facilities, to the routines, to the schedules. But mostly, there were changes to the mindset.
“Everything about it is different,” sophomore quarterback Deuce Wallace said. “Everything about him is different. He’s going to get after you and tell you what you need to do to get better. I just think it’s the best fit for him and for our team, especially with the coaching staff he brought with him. I think, all around, everything just fits perfect.”
But there were some growing pains. There were some grumblings on the streets about the long practice hours. There were some rumors that Stubbs had been hired merely because he had been able to topple Curtis teams before (including one for the 1995 state title), and that he had been given the task of turning Riverside into a powerhouse like Curtis.
Then there was an 0-4 start, including a 59-0 loss to the Rebels’ River Ridge nemesis and a 62-50 shootout with South Plaquemine.
Stubbs said he never got caught up in what people were saying off the field. On the field, Stubbs never panicked.
“There were several things there,” he said. “There was youth, there was inexperience and, of course, the strength level. Those are things you can’t coach. That’s just a time element. You have to bide your time. But on the flip side, I knew our kids were getting the best coaching money could buy. The biggest challenge is trying to get that young group to really understand and be real football players.
“You’ve got to do it mind, and you’ve got to do it mind and body. And just understand the nuances of the game. I forgot how much goes into developing the mindset, developing players into the hard-nose, physical football players.”
Wallace said it was just a matter of everyone adjusting to the transition: coach to the new players and players to the new coach.
“He won’t stop or do something unless he knows what he’s doing or until he gets it right,” said Wallace, who struggled himself in the early games. “And that’s what happened after the fourth game. We just got everything right. After the first four games last year, we definitely stepped up and achieved what we were trying to do. I think we met our expectations.”
Eventually, something clicked. The Rebels won their next two games, outscoring their opponents 100-6.
After falling 46-40 to Carver, Riverside won its next four games, including an impressive run in the playoffs in which it knocked off the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds on the way to the quarterfinals.
But once again, it was Curtis who ended the Rebels’ run, with a 62-10 thumping.
With a season behind them — and with Curtis moved up to Class 3A and out of their district and playoff bracket — the Rebels are hoping Stubbs will take them even farther.
“We want to win a state championship,” Wallace said. “That’s everybody’s goal.”
With Wallace, who passed for more than 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns last year, returning, along with wide receiver Von Julien, Stubbs said he likes his team’s chances. Emphasis on the “his.”
“This was really what I’m supposed to do,” Stubbs said “I look at it, really, as a huge honor. Any time you get to affect kids growing up, it’s a good thing. From that perspective, I’m very, very thankful.”