He learned to play the game of football under one of the most demanding head coaches imaginable.
As a senior on the 1963 Holy Cross football team, Barry Wilson – a center and linebacker – was a team captain. But that did not buffer him from the ire of the head coach, a hard-driving, chain-smoking tyrant of a man named John Kalbacher.
During a practice session, the coach was displeased with his team’s preparation and decided to use Wilson as a symbol that no one was immune from verbal abuse.
“Wilson! You don’t deserve to be on this team, much less a captain. Get out of my sight!”
Wilson recalled the incident many years later in the same coaches’ office once occupied by his taskmaster.
“I was shattered. I hid across from the practice field by the pool. Then a few minutes later, I heard John yelling, ‘Wilson! Where’s Wilson?’
“When I ran back to the field, Kalbacher put his arm around me and said, ‘Wilson, I’m glad to see you. There was some guy here impersonating you, but I ran him off.’”
Nearly 40 years and nine head coaches later, Barry Wilson became Holy Cross’ 14th head football coach since 1955 when the Catholic League was formed.
Among the best
As a player, who was part of the Tigers’ second and last state football championship team in 1963, Wilson was one of the school’s legendary players, ranked among the Tigers’ best linemen ever, which included Billy Burtschaell, a three-time All-Prep and All-State tackle (1947-19).
As a coach, he was an offensive innovator and the alter-ego of his mentor.
His Tiger teams between 2002-14 excited fans with a wide-open offense. Holy Cross quarterbacks set and re-wrote school passing records.
But although his offenses were exciting to watch, you could rarely tell it from Wilson’s demeanor.
There was a calmness about him. On a few occasions when I passed him on the sidelines, he’d stop to chat for a moment. It didn’t matter the subject because he had the game in hand.
Wilson had served a year as an offensive coordinator at Jesuit in 2001 under former Holy Cross teammate Vic Eumont, who became the Blue Jays’ head man a year earlier. It was a short stay because the Holy Cross administration called him home to be its head coach in 2002.
Over the next dozen years, Holy Cross would post a record of 83-50.
Wilson’s most productive year was 2012 when the LHSAA dropped the school into Class 4A and out of the Catholic League. Still in a recovery mode from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the football team, which was still transitioning from its lower 9th Ward campus to a new home in Gentilly, advanced to the semifinal round of the playoffs before losing to Edna Karr.
He and Eumont enjoyed their brief rivalry. They joked about the days when Eumont was a guard on Tulane’s team, playing against Wilson and LSU from 1965-67.
They were now rival coaches at the city’s most storied football programs.
But the two lifelong friends would team up one more time.
During that hurricane year of 2005, with students from the two schools attending classes wherever they could find an open Catholic or private school, Wilson and Eumont made a monumental decision.
Eumont had relocated to the Los Angeles area. But the football season was in full swing.
The two were aware that the long, continuous rivalry between the schools was in jeopardy of ending after 83 consecutive years. That was unthinkable.
They started making phone calls to gather as many players as possible to stage a game before the season came to an end. Eumont returned to New Orleans for the game. The game was played on a sunny afternoon at Joe Yenni Stadium. Holy Cross won, 20-7, but that was insignificant.
The two coaches embraced, knowing they had preserved an important footnote in history.
Looking back on those days brings bittersweet feelings. Eumont returned to California for good, and now Wilson is ending a long, wonderful career.
Quick trip west
For Holy Cross, Archbishop Rummel and St. Charles Catholic, appearing in the Allstate SugarBowl/LHSAA baseball tournament for Divisions was just an over-nighter.
The three were one and done in the city of Sulphur, a location 215 miles and more than three hours from the Crescent City.
And Sulphur will most likely continue to host the two tournaments for the foreseeable future when the LHSAA awards bids for the next two years at its summer meeting in June.
The community has poured a large amount of money and resources into its recreation programs and can now boast of four high school baseball fields (three turf) and 13 total to accommodate baseball at any age. Its softball complex has eight diamonds (six turf and two grass).
That area has enough hotel and motel rooms to house the many teams and visitors who attend these two events.
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.