Tuesday, May 20, 2014

'Smooth Man' Remembered

       I could write pages and pages, a dozen blog pieces, thousands of words about Coach Joe Aillet. I will sum it up this way: He was the most brilliant, and one of the most polished, men I've ever met in athletics.
      No, that's not a wide enough focus. He was one of the most brilliant and polished people I ever met in life, period.
      He was the epitome of a teacher, of a leader, of a visionary. He was religious and scholarly and ethical, an outstanding public speaker, a molder of young people ... and old people.
      Fortunately for so many of us who were part of his 30 years at Louisiana Tech University -- Louisiana Polytechnic Institute when he came there in 1940 -- he was a football coach and athletic director.
      This man could've been anything he wanted to be -- doctor, attorney, English professor, chemistry teacher, political science expert, fund-raiser, dean of arts and sciences, writer ... whatever. He could have been president of the university, no doubt.
      He chose football, he chose coaching, he chose to run an athletic department. And that way, he became a legend in Louisiana.The football stadium and field house (offices, dressing rooms, training rooms, etc.) that opened in 1968 -- near the end of his tenure -- stand as a monument to him. A year after he died (Dec. 28, 1971), what was then Tech Stadium became Joe Aillet Stadium. The field house also was named for him.
      We all knew that always was going to happen. Just hated to lose him -- at age 67, colon cancer -- too soon.
      That stadium, and most of the athletic complex at Tech, are located in that area just off Tech Drive in what used to be woods. It's in that place because that was Coach Aillet's vision; he had envisioned the location years and years before it became reality.
      Darned right I revered him, and still do. Which puts me in the company of thousands -- Tech students, the coaches he worked with and coached against, the wider Tech community from Ruston and points far beyond.
      He could have been a politician, too; he was that popular and had so many followers, especially in the area where he lived. But politics probably had too much of a seamy side, too much horse-trading (to use a cliche') for Coach Aillet. College football recruiting was seamy enough.
      But if anyone was going to play by the rules, it was Coach Aillet. And when kids were being recruited for football at Louisiana Tech, they knew that he and his staff were going to emphasize the student in student-athlete, that they were going there with the intention of earning a degree, and developing for success in the real world.
      That was his reputation, the way he operated -- and most everyone understood that.
      Winning football games was part of the deal, too -- 151 wins (86 losses, 8 ties) in 26 seasons, 13 league championships. He was innovative -- always among the first to change to what would be the popular offenses of the day, including the pro-set passing game in the early 1960s -- and he was a detail-oriented stickler for the little things that won games ... the right blocking-tackling fundamentals, the right steps, the right pass patterns.
      And like two of my other football coaching idols -- Tom Landry and Lee Hedges -- he had a calm, unshakable foundation. He spoke softly, deliberately, with purpose. He was every bit the teacher.
      I watched many Tech football practices in 1965 and '66, and he rarely raised his voiced, his language was never improper, and the worst thing I ever heard him say was "something is screwy here" as he dealt with offensive-line play.
      Off the field, in and around his office, he was reserved, but approachable, always the gentleman. I sat in on many an interview with the sports information director, and it was fascinating to listen to him talk about athletics -- or anything else. And, yes, he could quote Shakespeare and other classic writers. That was often written about him, and I heard him do it several times.
      One of my great thrills during my time at Tech was to ride to Shreveport with him, in his Cadillac, to watch the 1967 Class AA state football championship game -- Jesuit of Shreveport vs. Lake Charles. One of Coach Aillet's grandsons, Bobby Aillet -- was a backup quarterback for Jesuit, which won one of the greatest high school games I've ever seen, 34-33.
      Suffice to say that Coach Aillet -- and me -- got royal treatment in the jubilant Jesuit locker room afterward. Even Jesuit's toughest-of-all head coaches, C.O. Brocato, was a Coach Aillet admirer.
      It was a bit strange to me that in my first two years at Tech, we struggled in football. His 1964 team almost went undefeated; the third 9-1 team he had had in a 10-year period. But we were only 4-4 in '65 (my freshman year) and the 1-9 record of 1966 -- with Phil Robertson and freshman Terry Bradshaw at quarterback -- was an anomoly for Coach Aillet's career.
      By then he was 62, and it was getting to be a grind. So he retired from football, remained as athletic director for another four years and saw many of his recruits become the foundation of Tech's revival to football power under Maxie Lambright and an almost new staff.
      But he remained Tech's golf coach, and here, too, he was extremely successful. He had built a conference dynasty in that sport, too. And in a reprint of a column -- which I will attach to this blog -- I wrote in the summer of 1973, when Coach Aillet was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the first part of the column deals with golf.
      By the time I began thinking about college, I had heard so much about Coach Aillet from then-Woodlawn assistant coaches Jerry Adams, Billy Joe Adcox and especially A.L. Williams -- all of whom had played football at Tech. Several of Woodlawn's top players in its early years had gone on to play at Tech, too.
      Ed Shearer, a late 1950s Tech journalism student and early 1960s The Shreveport Times sportswriter who was one of the guiding forces in my going to Tech, also revered Coach Aillet, but he rarely referred to him by name. Ed called him "The Smooth Man."
      I credit Ed for creating that nickname, although it might've been one of my mentors, Pete Dosher, the sports information director at Tech then. Pete certainly promoted "The Smooth Man" nickname and he is the one who first introduced me to Coach Aillet when I was a high school junior and prospective Tech student (and student SID worker).
      "The Smooth Man" was everything everyone had always built him up to be. Which is why the headline on the accompanying column is the same one as you see on this piece.



  1. From Joe Raymond Peace: He was indeed a very special person; he is the reason I chose Tech over LSU. I don't know that I would do that today. Truly a great man and I was proud to play for him and Tech. He was Tech in my eyes.

  2. From Maxie Hays: Awesome, Nico. Everyone who ever knew Coach Aillet loved him.

  3. From Don Landry: I loved your story on Coach Aillet. I agree with everything you said. He was one of the great people that I met, and certainly influenced me.

  4. From Wayne "Butch" Williams: They say that there are only 5-7 men who actually influence the outcome of your life. I can say beyond a doubt that Coach Joe Aillet is right behind my father on that list. You talk about what kind of coach and motivator he was. I was an educator for 38 years and periodically used his philosophy in my dealings with students.
    I remember one hot summer day when I was a sophomore, we were working on a cutoff block. I was having a very difficult time making that block and Coach Aillet was getting on me in his normal way: "Now Wayne, don't you think you could have executed that block more proficiently?" That was his way of chewing me out.
    I felt so bad and had my head hung down as I was walking back to the dressing room. He said, "Wayne, you look down." I told him that he had been on me at practice. He then told me something I will always remember. "Wayne, as long as I correct you when you make mistakes, I think you are good enough to make a ballplayer," he said. "Whenever you make mistakes and I let them go without correction, then I have given up on you as a player."
    I used that comment so many times as a coach,a principal, a superintendent, and even as a parent. I loved that man as a coach and as a man, and am so proud to see his name on the stadium when I walk in. So sorry to ramble, but this man means this much to me.

  5. From Brian McCallum: I believe it was Keith Prince who told me that Joe Aillet had the idea to put vending machines all over campus. The revenue funded student workers in the athletic department for many years.

  6. From Joe Ferguson: Never heard a bad word about Coach Aillet. A.L. thinks he was a great man. Wish I could have known him.

  7. From John Morris: I was one of Coach Aillet’s golfers in the mid '60s. He knew more and taught me more about golf than I could absorb. He coached golf the same way he coached football -- practice and play with the proper fundamentals. I remember him saying, “John, if you swing correctly the shot will take care of itself.” He was as proud of his golfers as he was his football players. How he beamed when we won the 1964 Gulf States Conference championship for him with three freshman players. What a gentleman who had such a positive impact on the lives of so many young men. It was an honor to call him “my coach.”

  8. I'm just now coming across this blog, Joe Aillet was my great grandfather. It's very special to come across this and learn what a great man he was! Thank you for writing this! - Kristen Aillet

  9. Oh and the grandson, Bobby Aillet you mention, that's my father :)