Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Coach Farrar: A great friend to so many

      (It was almost five years ago when I wrote three pieces on Coach James C. Farrar, or Dr. Farrar if you want the formal title. I sent them by e-mail; it was before my Facebook days and I never posted them on my blog. So I am republishing them, although much has changed since they first appeared. I did make a few adjustments to reflect the changes.
      Coach Farrar died on Oct. 30, 2012. I miss talking with him -- he was always full of wisdom, and he always made me laugh -- and think of him especially as the baseball season begins.)
      In an era of coaching giants in Shreveport-Bossier and throughout Louisiana, James C. Farrar stood out. Playing for him, coaching with him, or against him, covering his teams from a sportswriter's viewpoint, it was a special treat.  
      Knowing him as a man was even better.
      He was tough. He had high expectations for his team and his fellow coaches; he worked his players hard; he was a thorough, details-oriented guy.
     Yeah, he was old school -- "yes sir" and "no sir" answers, no excuses, be on time, make the grades, mind the teachers, short hair and sideburns. Facial hair? Out of the question. Wear your uniform exactly this way.
      He was all about discipline. He had an Army background, and his coaching philosophy reflected that. You did it by his rules. If you didn't, there were consequences. Let's say that some of his methods wouldn't be acceptable today.
     Tough, and tough to beat. A consistent winner in football, as an assistant coach at Fair Park High School in Shreveport and then as the first head coach at Northwood, and later at Natchitoches Academy and Southfield. Never had a losing baseball team, even through the end of his coaching days at Centenary College.
      And sometimes, a big winner -- the state championship teams at Fair Park in 1963 (44-4-1 record) and 1965 (33-3) were among the deepest, most talented baseball teams ever in North Louisiana. Few programs have been as good as the Indians were under Coach Farrar from 1962 to '67.
     They reflected the man himself. They looked sharp, they were confident, they were prepared, they were intimidating -- and they were winners.
     It was perhaps the most fun James Farrar ever had in coaching.
     But he had many enjoyable career stops, winding up with  three decades as a talent scout for the Houston Astros. Thirty years apart, he was among the first pro scouts to find James Rodney Richard (from Vienna, La.) and Roy Oswalt (from Wier, Miss.). He encouraged the Astros to draft them and sign them, watched them become major-league stars.
      He was partial to those small-town guys. James C. grew up in Lillie, La., a place so tiny it made nearby Bernice look like a big city.
      "Ol' Lillie," he used to call himself sometimes, and some of the down-home, country philosophy and his many one-liners and expressions date to there. As he would say, when something astounded him, "Alligator, what a tail you got."
      Those of us who know Coach Farrar know how much fun he was, and was to the end. Underneath that tough exterior was one neat guy. A college professor and coach, Dr. Farrar was a doctor of life lessons.
       He was one of the great story tellers.
       He could walk into a room and, without being pushy or intrusive, he'd soon take it over with a story or remembrance. And his memory was sharp always.
      You had to pay attention, though. His speech pattern was one of twists and turns, sentence fragments. I used to kid him and say that he would use 100 words when 10 would do, and that I'd like to see an English teacher diagram his stories. But no matter how many times you might've heard a story, the end result left you laughing.
     My favorite line concerned his pro baseball career (six games in the Detroit organization in 1955). "It's a good thing the Tigers cut me," he said, "because I'd still be a 55-year-old catcher in Class D ball."
     Perhaps it was fitting that Coach Farrar's career ended with his scouting days. Much as he liked playing and coaching football, baseball was his sporting love.
     "Loved scouting," he said late in life. "The Astros were very good to me all those years. I'd still be scouting, but with my health, I couldn't handle the traveling any more."
     James C. was 80 [when this originally was written] and he'd tell you that, "I'm hanging in there." But life threw him a lot of fastballs and curveballs the final decade.
     Colon cancer. Brain tumor (benign). Irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation, requiring a pacemaker). Recurring leukemia. More shots and more medicine and more chemo.
      It was the leukemia he couldn't conquer at the end.
Coach and Miss Kate with granddaughter MJ Trahan
 Burns, who was then working for the Houston Astros.

      Nothing, though, compared with one awful day in May, 2008 -- the day his family lost Miss Kate.
      They were high school sweethearts dating to Bernice, married 55 years, with the three kids and now all the grandkids. On a vacation trip to see Tammy and her family in Augusta, Ga., Miss Kate had a massive heart attack. She didn't make it out of emergency surgery.
     When the doctor gave the family the news, the always loquacious Coach Farrar said, "I couldn't talk. I couldn't find a word to say."
      Looking at the beautiful family portrait that hung  prominently in the "empty-nest" apartment he and Miss Kate shared in Shreveport, he would say wistfully, "That was her pride and joy -- all those kids."

       He would tell you that Miss Kate, who would just shake her head at his many stories, was the supportive rock of the family. He always joked that when they would have a disagreement, "I would be up all night worrying about it. She would go to sleep, and sleep very soundly."
      Which also brings to mind a line he used often.
      "Any man who says he runs his household," he would say, "you better watch him because he will also lie about other things."
       In his final couple of years, Coach Farrar moved from the apartment to an assisted living facility, and before the move, he said, "It's tough. There are a lot of great memories here."
      But moving around, negotiating stairs, had become iffy, and "the kids leaned on me. They will feel better," he said then, if he made the move. "And I want things to be good for them."

Throwing out the first pitch (twice); Coach Farrar
delivers to his prize signee, Roy Oswalt (44)
      Roy Oswalt became a Houston Astros pitching star in 2001. Of the thousands of kids Coach Farrar coached or scouted or sent into the pros, Oswalt was the gem. He was a big reason Coach was selected as Astros' Scout of the Year in 2002.
      At the end of his scouting career, in 2007, the Astros brought Coach to Houston to honor him one weekend. Tim Purpura, then the team's general manager, asked him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Sunday game. One problem: "Me and Miss Kate were supposed to fly home Sunday morning." But Purpura quickly told him, "We will change the flight."
    And they did. So then ... "I threw out the opening pitch twice," Coach Farrar recalled. 
    The explanation: "I didn't want to tell Tim that neuropathy [numbness in the hands and feet, a side effect of chemo] was bothering me," he said. "I couldn't even feel the ball in my hand. So I go up on the mound and Roy is my catcher. I'm worried I'm gonna bounce the ball up there and it's going to jump and hit Roy in the face and hurt him. So I throw the pitch and it's like a slider, low and outside, and, yeah, it bounced. But Roy made a good play on it and he's laughing as comes toward the mound to meet me. And I tell him, 'Give me that damn ball, Roy. I'm gonna do this again."
      The second pitch was a strike, or close to it. It was a matter of pride."
      No one who knew Coach Farrar will be surprised at that.
      Near the end of almost every conversation we had in the last few years of his life -- and that was quite a few conversations, always entertaining, always with some laughs and some special moments -- he would say this:
       "Hey, ol' buddy, I want you to know something. I really value your friendship over all these years. My daddy used to say, 'In your life, you will have a lot of acquaintances, but you will have very few great friends.' You have been a great friend."
       James Carroll Farrar was a great friend to many of us. The privilege, I assure you, was ours.
      (Next: Fellow coaches talk about Coach Farrar)  





  1. From Lynda Minter Russell: Loved James and Kate!

  2. From Ben Land: Coach told me LSU offered him the head coaching job but because Kate was VP of a bank, she did not want to leave Shreveport.

  3. From Lori May: Coach Farrar was one of my all-time favorites. As a health and physical education student at Centenary, I was fortunate enough to have several classes under him. He had so many great stories, and sayings. I have quoted him frequently throughout my adult life. He was a good man, and I was lucky to have his influence during my educational years.

  4. From Glynn Harris: Years ago on my first job after graduating from Northwestern State, I was teaching school in Shongaloo with coach Wayne Thrash, and his best buddy, James Farrar, would come over and go squirrel hunting with us after school. Good memories.

  5. From Dick Hicks: Great article as usual. I agree with your description of Coach Farrar. He was extremely knowledgeable of the game while having the rare gift of communicating that knowledge to his players, he was a disciplinarian, he made the game fun and he was simply the greatest coach I ever played for (high school, LSU and with the Astros). I can't wait to see him again in Heaven with my brother and Dad, and we all hear some more of his baseball stories.

  6. From Winston Ebarb: Dick he complimented you and Tommy Chiles the night we had the roast at the Shreveport Country Club for him. He said I had two pitchers that if we scored one run, I knew we had a chance; if we got two runs, I knew we were going to win. James Rodney Richard was a good catch for him and the Astros. One of the few with a legitimate 100 MPH fastball.

    1. I would add James Rushworth (as a junior, spring 1963) into that group.

  7. From Jim Dinkins: He was the greatest. I spent more time with him in '64 than I did my own parents. We were either at football, baseball practice or sitting in the coaches' office just shooting the breeze. I think he gave me an opinion on every decision he made at practice and during the games. He would have played baseball games every day if they would let him. Damn near did in '63 and '64. I often think about him, and actually use some of his quotes in my everyday life. I've still got the Astros hat he autographed and gave me. I don't wear it. He loved his (Fair Park) INDIANS!!

  8. From Tommy Ford: Respected him second only to my Dad. Bailed me out of a lot of crap. I got a lot of knots on my head from the button on his cap and wore some stripes on my butt from his belt. RIP, Coach.

    1. From Jim Dinkins: I can still hear the sound of that button hitting your head. Lol.

  9. From Leo Leon: I missed a bunt signal, he came charging down the line from [coaching at] third base and yelled that if I ever miss another sign he was going to shove that bat up my kiester "sideways"!

  10. From Joe Harris: Good man. Gave me one of the highest compliments I ever received as a coach. Coming from him made it very special to me.

  11. From Pat Culverhouse: Coach made a big impression on all of us Sibley kids. I had the privilege of being his batboy in fifth and sixth grades. Played for him in seventh. Lots of stories.

  12. From Tommy Youngblood: One of my great regrets in life is that I did not stay in touch with my old high school coaches. They were a great group of people and they treated me so well, even when I was a dumbass. Farrar, [Roy] Wilson, Clem Henderson, all were super. Funny about how you remember things and I remember differently. I always felt Farrar was a holler guy but nothing hard-nosed. Wilson was supposed to be this tough guy but he was also very tolerant and supportive. Like I said, sorry I missed all those years of stories.

  13. From Tommy Henry: James, along with Mel Didier, was my hero in baseball. James was my role model and I told him that many, many times. I miss in a terrible way not being able to at least talk to him. If I was any good at all as a high school baseball coach, he did more than anyone to mold me as a coach -- really not just baseball but also in football and freshman basketball. And as you well know, James was a damn good football coach also and they didn't even know what a football was in Lillie!

  14. From Richard Thompson: He was a great man. He was my drivers ed teacher, and he had such patience as a teacher.