The men who knew both Joe Aillet and Maxie Lambright can draw the best comparisons of the most successful head football coaches in Louisiana Tech University history.
Two assistants worked under both, defensive backfield coach E.J. Lewis and the late Jimmy Mize (offensive line).
Four of Lambright's assistant coaches -- Mickey Slaughter (offensive backs/receivers), Pat Collins (defensive front), Wallace Martin (offensive line) and the late Pat "Gravy" Patterson (offensive line/ends) -- played at Tech in the Aillet years.
And many of the Tech players on Lambright's first three teams, 1967-69, were recruited by Aillet's staff and began their college careers playing in Aillet's last two seasons (1965-66).
Aillet and Lambright gave Tech a combined 38 years of mostly great success and stability.
In 38 seasons since then -- yes, it is exactly 38 -- there have been 10 head coaches (11 if you count Patterson's one game as the "interim" coach -- an 13-10 victory against arch-rival Northeast Louisiana to close an otherwise miserable 2-9 1979 season, the one after Lambright retired).
So how did the two legends compare?
"They were absolutely diametrically opposite," said Slaughter, who among those in Tech athletics was the first to know Lambright, his high school coach at Bolton (Alexandria).
|Coach Joe Aillet|
Lambright, said Slaughter, "was a volatile individual, with players and coaches. You did not want those cold blue eyes starting at you. When he had something to say to someone, he said it -- very directly."
Lewis spent four seasons with Aillet and 12 with Lambright.
"I was very fortunate to fit in with both of them," he said. "They were both great guys, both great coaches, good disciplinarians. ... Both good to work for."
Martin, who came back to Tech in 1971 after a graduate assistant role at the University of Arkansas under coach Frank Broyles and then an assistant track coach/P.E. teaching job at Northeast Louisiana, said Lambright "demanded a lot from us. As long as you did your job, it was fine. He expected high production.
"But if you didn't produce, you had to answer to him. When those blue eyes zoomed in on you, when he got to looking at you, you knew you were in trouble.
"Overall, he was a joy to work for. Extremely fair and very understanding. I thoroughly enjoyed those years."
The Aillet-Lambright comparison? "In some ways, they were a lot alike," Martin said. "They knew where they wanted to go, and knew how to get there. The kids they recruited were going to be good citizens. They both were committed to doing the best they could for the kids and for Louisiana Tech.
"Coach Aillet was a lot more low-key. Maxie would get a little more excited about things."
|Coach Maxie Lambright|
It would take some persuasion -- begging is not quite right -- by assistant coaches to gain relief for the players.
One example was that a player -- recruited by Aillet -- had a pre-dental curriculum that required lab classes which conflicted with football practices. Maxie insisted he not miss practice; the player wound up changing his major.
"Coach Aillet would never have let him miss those labs," a fellow player said.
And yet, coaches and players knew that second chances were a possibility with Lambright.
Conversely, one person noted that "when Coach Aillet had it in for somebody, there was no redemption. He had a hard time forgiving. They were gone."
A couple of my media friends would attest to that after they drew Coach Aillet's displeasure. No way would they want -- or dare -- to trade verbal or written exchanges with him, knowing he was one of the wisest individuals they would ever encounter.
For the players who bridged the Aillet and Lambright years, however, the adjustment was often tough.
(Next: Gaining the players' acceptance)