Coates never received the accolades he deserved

brocato    Turn back the pages of prep lore to a bitter cold December night in Shreveport.     
    Jesuit’s football team faced  host Byrd High, a team against which, in three previous meetings, Jesuit had not scored a point.
    By game time, the temperature had dropped to 22 degrees. Byrd responded by scoring a touchdown on its first drive.
    Jesuit’s senior captain Ray Coates huddled the Blue Jays around him in the end zone following the quick score. “We’ve come this far, and now we’re fooling around. If we don’t mop up with these country (blankety-blanks), then we’re not the team I thought we were. Now let’s get going!”
    According to Jesuit’s head coach at the time, G. Gernon Brown, Coates turned him away in the locker room at halftime.
    Although the Blue Jays trailed, 7-6, Coates told Brown, “Coach, you don’t have to say nothing. We’re going to beat the hell out of these guys.”

ray_coates    As the temperature continued to drop, the Jesuit team returned to the field early to warm up  for the second half. Spurred by whatever Coates told them, the Jays won the game and title, 25-7.
    That same fiery man one day found a fledgling blue jay that had fallen from its nest. Its leg was broken.
     Too young to put it back in the tree, Coates took the bird home, wrapped its tiny leg and hand-fed it until the bird reached maturity.
    By then it was too old to return to nature and was used to the diet Coates had prepared daily.
    “He had to keep the bird in a cage and would talk to it every day,” said Coates’ daughter, Robin Drewe. “And the bird would answer him.
    “When the bird died years later, he was heartbroken. He buried the bird in the back yard.”
    The Ray Coates the public and most of his contemporaries knew was much different.
    He was an outstanding athlete and defense-minded coach, and I’m told, a very good math teacher. And he always displayed the temper inherent to winners.
    But for some unapparent reason, Coates fell short of the accolades he deserved.
    On any other local prep football team his name would have become legend. But Jesuit’s football history is written by the feats of a long line of great backs – Toribio, Key, DiBartolo, Widmer, Petitbon, Lanasa, Screen – all without peer in their day.
    At LSU, Coates had an outstanding career but was overshadowed by his quarterback Y.A. Tittle, whose long stay in the NFL for San Francisco and New York netted him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
    During his tenure as head football coach, which lasted just five seasons, Jesuit won 40 of 52 games and earned three berths in the state playoffs.

coates_tittle    But he was never spoken of in the same breath with the likes of Brown, Doc Erskine, Toribio and Ken Tarzetti, from whom he inherited the head coaching position.
    Coates was fired as head coach in 1970 following a verbal altercation with a Jesuit priest.
    And following his dismissal, it took the school several years and coaching changes to find a coach as capable as Coates. Through it all, the man remained loyal to the school he loved. He stayed 18 more years to teach.
    Twice a year I’d see Coates at the Good Friends reunion. He was happy to sit and chat with the great prep backs of the 1940s. Each year it seemed one would pass on. Now it was Coates’ turn.
    Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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