Neville’s Coats Retires from Coaching
Author: Lacy Camp
After wrapping up the 2014 season, Joe Coats is saying goodbye to coaching.
“I’m 65 and I’ve still got some traveling and hunting left that I want to do,” Coats said. “After giving 40-some years of my life helping raise young men, in some form it just seemed like it was time to do something else.”
With Coats retirement, he will be putting down the pen on his 42-year coaching career as one of northeast Louisiana’s premier defensive strategists.
Although Coats spent many years coaching at Neville, the school played a bigger part in his life than just his coaching career.
Jim Coats, Joe’s father, became a part of Neville’s football program when he agreed to become Bill Ruple’s original assistant coach in 1949.
On September 18, 1949, coaching Neville football became a family business when Coats’ mother attended a Neville football game and immediately left the school after the game to go to the hospital. Coats was born a few hours later.
During his high school days, Coats padded up and played for Ruple and Charlie Brown.
In 1972, Coats joined the Neville football staff as a student coach while attending ULM. The 1972 season is well-known to most Neville fans because it was the year Brown captured his first state championship by winning three games in eight days and not allowing a single point in each.
After graduating from ULM in 1973, Coats went to Wossman for a year before coming back to Neville full time.
Following his return to Neville in ’74, Coats stayed for 25 years and combined his own strategies with Sonny Smith’s, Brown’s longtime offensive line coach, and Willie Ragan, who Coats eventually succeeded as defensive coordinator five years later.
With Brown’s detailed Wing-t offenses and Coats’ defenses, Neville won two state titles and made five appearances in the Superdome.
Along with his success on the football field, Coats was also the school’s baseball coach and head golf coach, which was among the state’s best.
After the 1992 season, where Neville lost their second state championship game in a row in overtime, Brown retired after serving 30 years as Neville’s football coach. With Brown’s retirement, the job was offered to Coats.
“I was going to get out when Brown did,” Coats said. “But I didn’t want to quit as a loser so I stayed on.”
When Coats took the job as head coach in 1993, it was a rebuilding season for Neville with Brown’s back-to-back state runner-up teams no longer there and a brand new coaching staff, which included Gary Roberts (Offensive coordinator) and Greg McGough (O-line coach).
In 1995, Coats brought over a young freshman coach from Bastrop named Mickey McCarty.
“I’ll be eternally grateful for him giving me the opportunity to get to Neville and start my career here,” McCarty said. “I learned so much from him not just with the X’s and O’s but also how to handle players.”
To finish off the 1995 campaign, Coats led the Neville Tigers back to the Dome and finished the season with a state title.
Despite the 1995 state title, Coats stepped down (with a 52-27 record within seven years as head coach) and moved to a new position in the school resource officer program in the Monroe City School District.
“It was different, but I enjoyed it,” Coats said. “When you go to the playoffs every year that makes for a long season.”
Some years later, Coats had all he could take with the Monroe City Schools job and retired from the district.
After mustering up enough strength to leave football behind, a phone call on a hunting trip in Colorado turned everything around.
Tensas Academy, an eight-man program in the MAIS, became coach-less just before fall camp. With much persuasion, Coats agreed to take over as interim.
Most of my farmer buddies had kids on the team so I said I’d help them get through the year since they were in a bind,” Coats said. “Instead I ended up staying eight years.”
While at Tensas Coats’ team, which included Nicky Pere the current head coach at Tensas Academy, began winning and gaining the parish’s support.
In 2008 and 2009, Tensas Academy became runner-up and eventually won the MAIS eight-man football championship in 2011.
“I was skeptical at first, but eight-man really wasn’t that different,” Coats said. “The talent level was different, but winning that championship was just as exciting as playing in the Dome.”
Although he is hanging up coaching, Coats said he will still make time for football when he can, as long as it doesn’t interfere with his fishing or hunting schedule.
Along with several appearances at Louisiana high school clinics, Coats currently serves as an advisor of sorts to both McCarty and Brad Bradshaw (coach at Bastrop) when called upon.
“He knows how to talk to players and be right there on their level,” Bradshaw said. “When he asks a kid what it means to ‘put your face in the chocolate pie’ they know what he’s talking about. That’s what makes him a great coach.”
Whenever it is clinic time, Coats said his phone keeps ringing since his flexible but simple defensive schemes are in demand
“If I was coaching defense in public schools right now, I wouldn’t put just one defensive lineman out there and 10 strong safety types,” Coats said. “You really need two different defenses nowadays for the run and pass. Big is good, but in modern football it’s a race getting off the bus.”
Bill Arnsparger, former LSU head coach and the brains behind the Miami Dolphins’ “No-Name-Defense”, and Gerry DiNardo each tried to get Coats to come work for them at LSU, but he couldn’t get himself to leave high school football.
“I guess I’m one of the few people who actually like teenagers,” Coats said.
When asked about his football career, Coats make the answer short and sweet.
“It’s been a great ride,” Coats said. “I wouldn’t have done anything different.”