Friday, December 21, 2012

A coach who should be Fame-ous

Woodlawn was so fortunate to have these two men
as its first head football coaches: A.L. Williams
and Lee Hedges (The Shreveport Times photo). 
   Getting right to what I want to say ...
    (1) A.L. Williams has been one of my best coaching friends -- a great friend, period -- for more than 50 years. If you read my previous blog on him, you already know that.
    (2) He should be chosen for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He's been on the ballot for several years, but he hasn't been picked. Maybe there's some debate on his credentials, but not in my opinion, of course because ... I'm biased (see point No. 1).
    (3) He should have been chosen for the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame years and years ago. They have been selecting people for 35 years. How in the hell they have overlooked him is a damn travesty. 

    The list of athletes, coaches and administrators for that Hall of Fame is a long one -- and there are many, many people who have been selected with far, far less credentials than A.L. Williams. How have they missed him this long?
    I haven't discussed these Hall of Fame matters with him, because I know he's too self-effacing to promote himself for these honors. So I don't mind doing the promoting.
     He helped win a state football championship in Louisiana's top class as a player; he scored the last five touchdowns for Fair Park's 1952 champions, the only football title in the school's 84-year history.
      He coached a state championship team (Woodlawn, 1968, the Joe Ferguson-led 14-0 Knights). He was part of high school coaching staffs at Woodlawn that won 111 games and seven district titles in a 13-year period (8.5 wins a year). His head coaching record there was 64-25, with district titles in each of his first four seasons.
      He was the track/field coach in his early years at Woodlawn, and in the spring of 1966, nurtured a national record-setting javelin thrower who had to be careful with a sprained right elbow. Terry Bradshaw didn't ruin his arm that spring, but got his first taste of national attention (and had a memorable best javelin effort of 244 feet, 11 inches).
     He was a star running back/defensive back and record punt-return man at Louisiana Tech, led the Bulldogs in scoring three years in a row. He was a part of two conference championship teams; the 1955 team, whose only loss was by one point, is considered one of the school's greatest.
     He was a star track man, too, part of relay teams whose school records stood for a decade, and also a long jumper/triple jumper. He is in the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame.
    He was a college head coach for 12 seasons -- eight at Northwestern State, four at Louisiana Tech. His team played for the Division I-AA national championship at Tech. He was an innovator; one of the first in Louisiana to go to almost all-out passing game.
     And I believe this: He did it the right way; he tried to play by the rules. He made it fun for the coaches, and the players, and the parents, and the fans.
     He very much bought into the philosophy/teaching of two of his mentors, Joe Aillet (Louisiana Tech) and Lee Hedges (Woodlawn), and the coaches who had guided him at Fair Park -- F.H. Prendergast, Roy Wilson and Clem Henderson.
    If A.L. Williams is nominated for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame just as a college coach, I can see where he might not qualify. The final record was 66-65-1.
     Those of us who know realize that he came into a Northwestern situation where his first two years there -- the first as an assistant -- were 1-10 seasons. So he rebuilt that program, developed a bunch of NFL talent (Bobby Hebert, Mark Duper, Joe Delaney, Sidney Thornton, Petey Perot, Gary Reasons, Victor Oatis) and made it a respectable program.
       He also had to rebuild much of the Tech program his first year (1983), but by the next season, the Bulldogs were playing in the I-AA national title game. Still, consecutive records of 10-5, 8-3 and 6-4-1 weren't enough to satisfy some of the Tech folks, and he chose to leave after the 1986 season rather than -- as had been suggested -- fire some of his assistant coaches.
       One of those coaches was Billy Laird, the offensive coordinator/play-caller who was being criticized (but probably not to his face). Laird had been Woodlawn's first star quarterback, close to Coach Williams since 1960, and on his staff for seven years. No way was A.L. about to let Billy, or others go; he took the fall himself.

       Dr. Pat Garrett was chairman of Tech's athletic council then and what he said when Williams' resignation was announced still rings true with me.
       "His worth to Louisiana Tech cannot be measured," Garrett said. "He was asked to come here and return stability and integrity to the football program, and he's done that in Tech fashion. And he's done it with style and class and often under adverse conditions. A.L. Williams is a winner."
        Look, A.L. has his opinions, his views on how things should be run -- especially how athletic programs should be run. He'll speak his mind, although almost always tactfully.

       For years, he was critical of the administration and some boosters at Louisiana Tech because he felt that Joe Aillet -- a man and coach he (and many others) revered -- had not been treated respectfully enough in his final years at the university.
       His coaching/teaching style was thorough and generally low-key -- if you saw players being abused or you heard profanity on the field, in practice or in games, by anyone, it was rare.

       But I have seen A.L. lose his cool. In fact, I've experienced it.
       We didn't always share the same view; he once got on me fiercely about a column I'd written and I'm sure there were other times when he held back. (Of course, John James Marshall says that people disagreeing with me is a long list.)
      People have been critical of A.L. to me directly, or I have heard it second-hand. I listened to those opinions and took them in. Didn't say I agreed. Because I know the man pretty well; I know where he's coming from; I believe I know his values.
      And if you ask me (and no one did), I will say that for all he did -- as an athlete and a coach, as a leader and a contributor -- he's a Hall of Famer.   
     I haven't been on the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame selection committee since I left the state in 1988. I know there are great candidates every year. But I know one person I'd choose if I had a ballot next August.
     As for the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame and whoever makes those selections, people ... how have you missed A.L. Williams all these years?        
    Don't mean to be overdramatic, but that might be the biggest oversight in the history of Louisiana athletics.


  1. From Tom Burnett: Outstanding, Nico! Coach Williams is a true treasure, and those of us who had the chance to work with him are better for it.

  2. Your blogs are wonderful, Nico!!

  3. From Roy May: Could not agree with you more, Nico. A. L. Williams was a great coach and if you knew him you know he is a great person as well. He once told me that the football teams from the Classes of 65', 66', 67', 68' and 69' (basically Prather thru Ferguson) averaged 20,000 fans per game. I know he was not the head coach all these years -- I would never take anything away form Coach Hedges -- but how many coaches can say that they were part of something like that? It's a shame that A.L. Williams has been denied this for so many years.

  4. From Ann Bloxom Smith: As usual, Nico, you've written well and accurately -- thanks for the memories. And thanks for giving credit where credit is due.

  5. From Jim Pruett: Actually, it seems ridiculous that he is not in the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame. Clem Henderson is and I thought he should be, but I would have thought A.L. would have been in for 20 years. Long before Clem. ... The good news is that he probably doesn't care anyway. Not because it's not a worthy honor, but as you mentioned he already knows who he is.

  6. From Maxie Hays: A. L. Williams deserves to be in ALL of the Louisiana Halls of Fame!

  7. From Dr. Leonard Ponder: Count me among those who agree with you about A.L. Williams. Allow me to add another characteristic to his long list of gleaming characteristics. He treated his feeder school junior high coaches with utmost warmth and respect. That is not always the case in districts where junior high athletics operate independently from the high school. I can personally testify that he always carefully listened to everything I had to say about players moving from Oak Terrace to Woodlawn and freely gave me needed advice when requested. Years later when he was head football coach at Louisiana Tech I was on the Tech campus as an academic representative from Texas A&M. I went by his office without an appointment. He remembered me by first and last name and received me with the warmth and openness that he had always displayed at Woodlawn. I probably stayed longer than I should have that day, but he never even hinted that he might have other things to do. He is first-rate.