Monday, December 19, 2016

Lambright, Part IV: Choosing the next coach

       (Part IV)
       Maxie Lambright was an accomplished and qualified football coach when he was named head coach at Louisiana Tech University in March 1967.
       But who at Tech knew that exactly?
       So he was a surprise selection of sorts as Joe Aillet's successor. Among the few Tech people who knew who he was, though, were the five Bulldogs coaches who had been on the opposite sideline when their teams matched up with Southern Mississippi.
       They knew that Lambright was directing the offense that helped Southern Miss beat Tech in five of his eight years as a USM assistant coach.
       What the great majority of Tech's football players, all recruited by Aillet and his staff, knew was that he wasn't George Doherty. And Coach Doherty, the Tech defensive line/linebackers coach for 10 years, was who they wanted to be their next head coach.
       Coach Aillet wanted that, too, and so did the substantial base of ex-players and alumni and Tech friends who were Aillet loyalists.
       Maxie, unwittingly, came into a house divided.
Dr. F. Jay Taylor
       But he was Tech president Dr. F. Jay Taylor's pick, and that was that.
       It was, I dare say, the most high-profile decision -- and division -- of an unpublicized but not unknown clash of two strong-willed, powerful Tech personalities.
       Dr. Taylor and Coach Aillet.
       The young "new school" progressive Tech president and the very respected veteran athletic director/head coach who was one of the university's best ambassadors. 
       Aillet wasn't exactly "old school" because in athletics he always adjusted with the times and often was at the forefront of new developments. But he had run his football team and the department with much success for 2 1/2 decades, he was sure of his leadership, and he was a legend.
       There was a Dr. Taylor faction; there was a Coach Aillet faction (and some people caught in between). And there was quite a bit of jealousy.
       Both were top-notch educators, effective speakers, both polished and polite. But not agreeable with each other's roles.
       Jay Taylor had come back to Tech -- where he was a student soon after Aillet became AD/coach in 1940 -- as president in 1962, and the school was beginning to grow in many areas.
       Enrollment was increasing each year, thus requiring new and renovated facilities. Dr. Taylor was well-connected politically in Louisiana, good at cajoling people and obtaining the funding for increased personnel and the many proposed building and educational projects.
       Who knows how much he differed with Coach Aillet on athletic department issues -- I would guess primarily on  funding -- but the fact was that the two men did not have the same perspective.
       Dr. Taylor was bringing in his own people as administrators for departments all over campus.
       And he delved into athletics when Scotty Robertson, a Tech graduate and former Tech athlete who had become a very successful high school coach (primarily in basketball), was brought in as assistant coach to longtime Tech basketball coach Cecil Crowley in the fall of 1963.
       It was obviously with the intent of Scotty soon replacing his old coach -- Joe Aillet's coaching companion dating to Haynesville High School in the early 1930s. That happened after only one year.
        The Aillet boosters, sensing Dr. Taylor's growing influence, organized a "Joe Aillet Appreciation Day" for the 1963 homecoming game, not only to honor the coach but to make it clear to the new president how much the coach meant to them.
       Coach Aillet was presented -- if I recall correctly -- a new Cadillac, quite a luxury in those days, and the football team presented him a whopping 45-0 victory against Southwestern Louisiana (not yet USL, or Louisiana-Lafayette, or -- heavens -- the University of Louisiana).
       The 1964 Tech team was one of Coach Aillet's best -- 9-1, with only a controversial loss at Southern Mississippi the spoiler. That team gave up only 50 points other than the USM game and was one of the best defensive teams statistically in school history.
From The Shreveport Times sports page -- March 31, 1967
     Then, after successive 4-4 and 1-9 football seasons, Aillet decided -- on March 30, 1967 -- to announce his retirement from coaching. He wasn't forced out; no one was going to force out Joe Aillet. But he was 62, he had coached for nearly 40 years, and he wanted to remain as athletic director.
       In his lengthy letter to Dr. Taylor, Coach Aillet said, in part, "The combined duties of athletic director and head football coach are getting more demanding as our program expands. ... During the past two years my duties have been exhausting, both physically and mentally ..."
       Who would replace him?
       It was late in the school year, leaving little time for a new coach to prepare for the 1967 season. So promoting someone from Aillet's staff might have been more prudent than bringing in someone from outside.
       But Dr. Taylor likely had prepared for the time of change. 
       Doherty was the players' choice; they knew him. He had been a two-time state championship coach at Minden High, then returned to Tech, where he was a standout linemen on two of Coach Aillet's first teams (1941-42). He played five  seasons in the NFL.
       He was, as some players called him, a Jekyll-and-Hyde -- aggressive and demanding as a coach, especially in practice; a kind, genial, your-favorite-uncle type away from football.
       The players returning for the 1967 season had a meeting -- on the front steps of old Memorial Gymnasium -- and had a petition asking for Doherty to get the job. Most players, but not all, signed it.
       A couple then took the petition to a meeting with Dr. Taylor in his office across campus. He was cordial ... but he had his own plan.
This is the photo that
Southern Mississippi
provided to Tech when
Maxie Lambright was
named head coach.
       In short time, the news broke: Maxie Lambright was the pick.
       (If memory serves correctly, the first to report it was Alexandria Town Talk sports editor/columnist Bill Carter, who repeatedly broke Tech athletic department stories in the mid to late 1960s. He obviously had "inside" sources at Tech, and those sources were accurate. Carter had known Lambright from the coach's days --1956-58 -- at Bolton High in Alexandria.)
       Doherty would not be retained on staff. He moved to arch-rival Northwestern State as defensive line coach, and became head coach there for three years (1972-74), with one conference championship and a final 1-9 season before retiring.
      For the longest time, Lambright's selection was resented by many Aillet faithful. But their displeasure waned as Tech's teams began to win as they had under Aillet.
       When the Bulldogs had their unprecedented four-year run of success (44-4), then at the end of Lambright's 12-year tenure (and seven conference titles), and certainly now 50 years later, it was and is clear: He was a great pick.
       (Next: Two coaches, two styles)       



  1. From Glenn Murphy: Reading the Lambright story, I remember that we were practicing for the Akron [bowl] game [1968]. Coach Lambright walked by me and said, "Mister All-GSC." I was a little embarrassed and I said, "Aw, coach, get off my back." He said, "I'll get off your back and get on your ass." Quickly, I said, "I was kidding, coach." He chuckled and walked off. I didn't know if he was going to "deck" me.

  2. From Tim Hall: Good series of articles. I think you captured the palpable tension surrounding that whole transition. In the fullness of time it all worked out, but there certainly was some visible stress on campus in the process.
    I was a freshman in 1963 and this was all "big time" stuff for me. I remember at the halftime of the [homecoming] game, they drove a cool-looking two-door white Pontiac Grand Prix out to midfield. As I recall, it had a trailer attached with a brand new golf cart on it! Pretty impressive.

  3. From Jim Willis: Your blog on coach Maxie Lambright was excellent as it captured what all knew and none, as far as I know, have fully acknowledged: His ability to coach such a great group of coaches and their enduring high regard for him.
    Reading these comments should make all aware of how many of us still bear the influence of the names Aillet and Lambright. Coach Jimmy Mize used Aillet techniques to give offensive linemen a graduate degree in blocking. My respect for Lambright was so immediate after he arrived that I shuttered at the thought of failure to not fully use what I had previously learned under his predecessor. Coach Lambright reminds me of the colonel in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam" -- firm and willing to judge others fairly by what he observed, not by biased opinions.

  4. From Jim Pruett: As you know, I have never paid a lot of attention to football. But I well remember when Lambright came, and things changed. I never met him. (Aillet was a living legend. Personable even to kids like me, so the change was mainly felt.)
    Reading your Lambright blogs has been fun. He sounds like a man like my dad -- tough, a man of his time. And very smart.

  5. Also from Jim Pruett: One very cool memory -- after basketball practice on a very cold day, watching Bradshaw play catch with someone in the back hallway in Memorial Gym. I had never seen Terry throw up close and it was jaw-dropping impressive. I remember thinking that his arm was unreal. Had never seen anything like it.

  6. From Tim Petrus: Really enjoying this series. I was fortunate to be there [as a Tech student] during the 44-4 run. Never forget the Roger Carr catch that beat Boise State.

    1. Roger Carr's catch of a 21-yard pass from Denny Duron with 12 seconds remaining gave Tech a 38-34 victory over Boise State in a 1973 NCAA Division II semifinal game at Wichita Falls, Texas. The Bulldogs drove the length of the field, 11 plays, after Boise had scored to take the lead with 3:42 remaining. The next week Tech won the first Division II national championship.
      That TD pass was one of what I consider the three greatest TD pass plays in Tech history (to my knowledge).
      The others:
      -- 1968: Terry Bradshaw to Ken Liberto, 89 yards with 12 seconds remaining, to beat Northwestern State 42-39 in the State Fair game in Shreveport in Lambright's second season at Tech.
      -- 1999: Sub QB Brian Stallworth to Sean Cangelosi, 29 yards (on 4th-and-23) with 2 seconds remaining to beat No. 18-ranked Alabama 29-28 (with Kevin Pond's PAT kick) in Birmingham. Alabama went on to win the SEC championship. That was Tech's second victory over Alabama in three years.

  7. From Bud Dean: Excellent, you'll get some "blowback" on this one, but that's the way it was.