Tuesday, May 20, 2014

'Smooth Man' Remembered (from June 1973)

      (This column is from The Shreveport Times, published on the day that Joe Aillet was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.)

Golf Was His Game, Too
       One of the happiest moments in the last years of the late Joe Aillet's life came in the spring of 1969 at a place which, for him, was like a second home.
        At Ruston Country Club that May, the Louisiana Tech golf team won the Gulf States Conference championship. It was the last championship for a team coached by the man who served over 40 years teaching young men the finer points of athletics and life.
        When Rick Hollan, the team's captain that spring, rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to clinch the title by one shot, Joe Aillet's face broke into a wide smile. He simply beamed with pleasure.
         It was a rare emotional moment for the man they called "The Smooth Man."
         He was unlike many college golf coaches who consider the game a "minor" sport and merely serve as chaperons for the players. Joe Aillet took his golf very, very seriously.
         He was intensely dedicated to the game, studied and knew the finer points and could teach them to anyone willing to learn. He coached the game.
         It was typical of the intensity with which his life was filled. He was a brilliant student and teacher of football, golf, and athletics in general -- and people, in particular.
         Tonight, Joe Aillet will be inducted posthumously into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in ceremonies in Natchitoches. Also entering the state athletic shrine are basketball great Bob Pettit and ex-Grambling College and pro football star Paul "Tank" Younger.
          Born in New York City and raised in New Orleans, Aillet's coaching career took him to Haynesville High School and Louisiana State Normal (now Northwestern State University) before he became athletic director-head coach at Louisiana Tech in December 1939.
          The man with the French name (pronounced eye-ay) and the dignified manner built a football record of 159 wins, 86 losses and 8 ties in 26 years at Tech before leaving the coaching field for the AD job fulltime.
          He took great pride in his golf record, too. Eleven times in 16 years Louisiana Tech won Gulf States titles in golf.
          But what pleased Aillet about that last championship in 1969 was that his teams had gone without one for five years after a streak of 10-in-11 years.
          The 1969 team was, he admitted to close observers, not a team with exceptional golfing ability as some of his previous champions had been. But he worked with them, cajoled them, counseled them and in the two-day tournament on their home course, the players put it all together.
          Rick Hollan, now a banker in Haynesville, remembers that day he made the winning shot.
          "It was the only time," he recalls, "I ever saw him just really break out and laugh. He wasn't one to let his emotions show outwardly."
          Hollan remembers the teaching, too.
          "He could analyze a golf swing and pick out the weak points as well as anyone I've known," offers Rick. "And he knew how to explain it, how to get it across to you. If I called him at midnight, he'd be willing to talk about it. I think enjoyed teaching golf as much as anything he ever did.
          "I wasn't associated with him in football, of course," adds Hollan. "But he couldn't have taken a greater interest in football than he did in golf."
          So admired was Aillet's golf knowledge that brothers Jay and Lionel Hebert, who came out of Lafayette to become established regulars on the pro tour, often corresponded and visited with the coach for advice.
          And Longview's Roy Pace, who played at Tech in the early 1960s and is currently on the pro tour, was a regular correspondent, too. It was one of Aillet's pleasures to check the golf scores daily for Pace's progress.
'He Always Cared'
          It was through football, however, that most people will remember Joe Aillet.
          So high was Alabama's "Bear" Bryant's personal regard for Aillet that he accepted a game with Louisiana Tech in 1966. At the time, 'Bama was the national champion with little to gain and everything to lose by playing the "Davids" from Louisiana.
          What pleased Aillet tremendously was the fact that 90 percent of the athletes he recruited came away from Louisiana Tech with a degree.
           "He always told you that education was the reason you were there," recalls Leo Sanford, a personal Aillet favorite who was a standout linebacker at Tech in the early 1950s and played professional football before returning to Shreveport for a successful business career. "Education came first with him."
           Sanford also remembers the low-key, soft-spoken manner in which Aillet did his football teaching.
            "He knew as much football as anyone, knew how to get it over and knew how to handle the individuals," offers Sanford. "When he criticized, he did it constructively. He never dressed anyone down.
            "What he did," Sanford adds, "is take a young boy and make him a man. He helped you grow up and accept responsibilities in life. Plus he made you a better football player. Not a day goes by that in some way I don't think of Coach Joe Aillet. ... When a decision has to be made or something, you wonder what he would have done."
             Aillet asked for loyalty and he got it. Twice in his lifetime his large group of ex-athletes and supported honored him. First, with a Joe Aillet Day in 1963. Then again with a Joe Aillet Banquet when he retired as Tech athletic director in June 1970.
              At the banquet, he was his own guest speaker -- an unusual idea implemented by his friends -- and he thrilled the audience with a moving, 40-minute address on his philosophies of coaching and life.
              His son Bob, who played football for him at Tech in the 1940s, recalled at that banquet his dad's thoughts when he first moved to Ruston in 1940. How he had plans for a new athletic plant at Tech and, although he knew they wouldn't materialize until 20-25 years later, he already had a place picked out on the campus for it.
               In his final years as Tech AD, Aillet helped finalize plans and oversee construction of a new football stadium, fieldhouse, baseball stadium, track and tennis courts on the campus. Today, his personal memorial stands as the Joe Aillet Fieldhouse and Football Stadium.
               "Even back then, he was planning, not dreaming," Bob recalled of his father.
              He's remembered, too, as a pioneer. How he helped found the Louisiana High School Coaches Association and the Gulf States Conference. How he became the first coach in the area to use daily practice plans and games films and the pro-T offense.
               He could recite Shakespeare and he easily could have passed for an English professor so sharp was his command of the language. He'd have been a great color analyst for football games on television.
              But mostly he's remembered for his relationships with people.
               "He always saw good things, the positive things in people," said George Doherty, who with Jim Mize were right-hand men as assistant coaches at Tech. "He always cared."
              Doherty, now the head coach at NSU, will be at the awards ceremony tonight. So will Mrs. Joe Aillet, Ruby, who was a perfect complement to the coach with her grace and dignity and whose Cajun cooking -- she was raised in Youngsville -- was bragged upon by the close Aillet friends.
                "Joe Aillet, above all," says Leo Sanford, "was interested in the total man. He could handle people; he just had that way."
                 Already Coach Aillet is in the NAIA Hall of Fame. It was a question of whether he would make the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, just when. The same is true for Bob Pettit and Tank Younger.
                  Tonight's the night.           

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