As one Eagle soars to the top, another calls it quits

Former Archbishop Shaw quarterback Vance Joseph has reached the pinnacle of his football coaching profession … for which Scott Bairnsfather is delighted.

On the other hand, Bairns­father, who has suffered through seven consecutive losing seasons as Shaw’s head football coach, has called it a day at his alma mater … for which he is relieved.

Joseph, who followed his brother Mickey as Shaw’s leader in 1987 before embarking on a 22-year career as a college and professional assistant coach, became the Denver Broncos’ new head coach on Jan. 12 at the “tender” age of 44. He was hired by general manager John Elway, who was revered as the Broncos’ greatest quarterback before Peyton Manning put on the orange jersey.
 
“Vance was the type of guy I could see ascending to the top,” Bairnsfather said about the new pro mentor whom he coached as an assistant to Hank Tierney at Shaw. “If someone from here was going to the top, I knew it would be Vance.”
 
After a freshman season watching brother Mickey lead the Eagles to an 11-1 record, Vance became the man to run Tierney’s option offense from 1987-89.

During that time, Shaw won 37 of 43 games, gained the school’s only state football title in 1987, finished runner-up to Ruston in 1988 and lost in the 1989 quarterfinals to Thibodaux, 41-40, in overtime.

Bairnsfather, a former standout for one of Tierney’s earliest teams, helped coordinate the offense from the press box when the Eagles posted an 18-2 district record and won two Catholic League titles during Vance’s years.

On the day Joseph reached his summit, a disillusioned head coach with a promising future stepped away from his high school coaching career.

“I’ve expected this for more than a year,” noted Shaw athletic director Tom Alef.

Bairnsfather got his first head coaching gig at Holy Cross in 1998 following the school’s lean years between 1987-97, during which Tiger teams languished through eight losing seasons under three different head coaches.

During his four years in the Lower 9th Ward, Bairnsfather led Holy Cross to 25 wins and two second-place finishes in the Catholic League.
However, his roots were buried in the West Bank.

Returning to his home
Tierney’s brilliant career at Shaw came to a sudden end after 19 seasons and 11 district titles when the school was found to be in violation of LHSAA eligibility rules. Shaw was forced to forfeit nearly 40 victories between 1999-2001, and Tierney was dismissed from the faculty.

The first man the Shaw administration called was Bairnsfather, now a proven head coach.

He returned to a school, whose reputation had suffered. As a result, Bairnsfather’s first Eagles team in 2002 went 0-9. His second won two of 10 games.

In 2006, a year following the school’s inactive season due to Hurricane Katrina, Shaw was forced to drop out of the Catholic League as result of an LHSAA rule that no longer allowed schools to play up to a higher classification.

As a 4A program, Shaw became an instant powerhouse, going 10-0 in 2006 and winning three straight state runner-up trophies. But athletics at Shaw (with the exception of baseball) have met with disappointing results since then.

The Westbank abounds with outstanding football talent. Just a month ago, Landry-Walker won the Class 5A championship, and Edna Karr captured the 4A title.

John Ehret had a 10-3 record, and had not Landry-Walker been in the same district, Ehret, which shares Marrero with Shaw, would have won its district championship.

Shaw has not enjoyed a winning football season since 2009, when the Eagles went 7-4. They have now been through seven seasons with a losing record despite having one of the most respected coaching staffs in the city.

The West Bank, which is rich in high school sports talent, is, for the most part, a blue-collar community whose families require a substantial subsidy to send a student to a Catholic or private school. They key word here is “substantial.”

Yet, other Catholic schools like Holy Cross, Archbishop Rummel and De La Salle have attracted student athletes from communities on the west side of the river.

The emergence of Thomas Jefferson in Gretna and Patrick Taylor in Avondale as charter schools have provided parents the option of a quality education at no cost.

All these factors took their toll on Bairnsfather over the last seven grueling seasons.

“I can say that this season hasn’t been much of a joy,” he said. “But this is the first time in my 30 years of coaching, I get to go home every day at 2:30.”

His brother, Brian, who has coached the offensive line through most of Scott’s career, will remain at Shaw as a teacher. When Scott returns to coaching, that tandem will probably reappear again on the sidelines to once again haunt football officials.

“For me, it’s just time. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years,” Scott said.

“Maybe I’ll be an assistant coach some place. If I’m offered a coaching job, I’ll take it.”

Alef said he has been approached by another former Shaw quarterback, Shyrone Carey, about the position. Another possible candidate is defensive back coach Tommy Connors, a former Shaw and Tulane safety.

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.  

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