Fambrough: 200-wins club shows coaching trends

What’s in a number, or a list?

It usually depends on who you ask. When the topic is sports, just about everybody has an opinion.

Major League Baseball has its list of all-time home run hitters and the NFL has its all-time rushing list. What those numbers mean and whether they merit Hall of Fame placement is a hot topic.

Evaluating high school statistics is much tougher. A coach’s wins total is one number standard that stands on its merits.

The list of Louisiana’s all-time winningest football coaches reads like a Who’s Who. John Curtis coach J.T. Curtis is the leader with a 530-56-6 record that’s also ranks second all-time nationally.

Though the list was dubbed the “200 Wins Club” decades ago, it takes on a different meaning these days. It represents not only excellence, but also the current state of high school sports.

There have been moves up the list and one key passage during the past year. St. Thomas More’s Jim Hightower moved into second place with a 367-114-1 record, just one game ahead of legendary Haynesville coach Alton “Red” Franklin.

The No. 4 coach on the list, legendary West Monroe coach Don Shows, died in March. Two other coaches are making moves on the 300 wins plateau in an era when high school coaches opt not to stay in the profession because of its demands.

Others don’t get the chance at prolonged longevity because schools are quick to make changes if supporters/administrators believe an occasional slide toward a .500 record is unacceptable. These factors make it tougher for coaches to get to 200 wins, let alone 300.

Notre Dame’s Lewis Cook sits at 298 wins and figures to become Louisiana’s seventh coach to reach 300 wins early this fall. Catholic High’s Dale Weiner has 288 wins and could reach 300 if the Bears make a deep playoff run.

Former Kentwood coach David Currier (253), Lutcher’s Tim Detillier (245) and Ponchatoula’s Hank Tierney (241) are next on the list. Currier is set for his first season at Bowling Green School, a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools member.

Cynics who champion the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s split football championships no doubt will note that the top active coaches — Curtis, Hightower, Cook and Weiner — all coach at successful private schools. What they overlook is the most important factor that all the coaches on the list enjoyed — longevity and stability, typically at one school.

“When I first got into coaching in 1974, we were teachers first,” STM’s Hightower said. “Winning was good. As long as you were teaching and helping prepare your players for life after high school you were doing your job. Unfortunately, it’s not that way any more. So much of it is about winning. That’s so unfair to high school coaches.”

Hightower, Cook and Weiner all consider themselves to be fortunate. The old cliché about being “put into a position to succeed” doesn’t just apply to players.

Hightower has been at STM since 1986 and coached at one other school, Catholic-Pointe Coupee. Cook has been a head coach at Rayne, Crowley and Notre Dame. Weiner’s coaching stops include St. John-Plaquemine, Catholic-PC and Trafton (now Dunham). However, he is entering his 28th year at Catholic. All three have turned around programs and stayed with them. Curtis is only coach John Curtis has ever had.

“When you look at the list and realize only six guys have ever gotten to 300, it’s very special,” Cook said. “I don’t think any of us got into coaching thinking about winning 200 or 300 games. We got into it because we’re teachers.

“Nobody does it alone. I sat down and started listing the assistant coaches I’ve had and got up to 42. And the players … they’re the ones who put in the work and believed in what we’ve taught them.”

The ever-changing challenge also is a key component. Hightower calls it “energizing.”

“Every year there’s a new crop of kids who come into the school and the program,” Weiner said. “You get to see how much they can learn and develop and how far they can go. That’s what coaches love.”

So what’s in number, or a list? More than you think when it comes to high school coaching.

Follow Robin Fambrough on twitter @FambroughAdv and on the blog BR Preps http://blogs.theadvocate.com/batonrougepreps/