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|Coats born to coach|
He looks more like a professor at a college than a football coach.
He answers the phone as if he's a sales clerk at the local co-op with 20 customers standing in line.
No mistaking that's Tensas Academy head football coach Joe Coats answering the phone.
The first time I talked with "Coach Joe" I felt as if I had upset him or picked a bad time.
I soon came to realize that's just the way Coach Joe rolls.
I came to find out throughout the rest of the season that he is very accommodating, very fun to talk to (even though his answers are short and sweet) and a darned good football coach.
But I don't have to tell you that. His record speaks for itself.
Coats was part of four state football championships at Neville. He played for and was an assistant coach to the legendary Charlie Brown when the Tigers won the state championship in 1972, '83 and '84 and won the state title as head coach at Neville in 1995 as the Tigers defeated Hahnville in the 5A state championship game.
Brown, who died in April of this year, spent 42 years as a coach at his alma mater — 12 as an assistant to Bill Ruple and 30 as head coach. He guided the Tigers to a 263-67-6 mark, three state titles and three state runner-up finishes.
He also has won two golf state titles as head coach at Neville.
Coats, an avid hunter, retired from Neville and moved to Somerset Hunting Club in Newellton.
While on vacation hunting in Jackson Hole, Wy., Coats received a call from Tensas Academy. Chris Jacobs accepted a coaching job in Tennessee on the first day of football practice.
"I had some folks call me and I told them I would just help get them through the year," Coats said. "I'm still here."
Tensas went 6-5 in Coats' first year in 2007, but because of decreasing numbers joined the 8-man league in 2008. In 8-man football, there are two less linemen and one less running back.
The Chiefs lost in the title game that season, and also in the championship game in 2009. Tensas, which hasn't lost a regular season game the past three seasons, lost out in the semifinals last year.
"I was pretty skeptical initially when I found out we were going to 8-man football," Coats said. "But I got to looking at it and it wasn't much different. All the blocking rules and the defensive schemes are the same. It still comes down to blocking, tackling and running and catching the football."
Coats credits Brown and three other coaches with influencing him.
The most influential was his father, Jim Coats, an assistant under Brown at Neville who died in 2009. Coats said there was also former Neville coach Bill Ruple and A.R. "Red" Sims, who coached Coats in junior high.
Sims, who is on the Ouachita Parish School Board, arranged for Tensas' team to practice at West Monroe last week to get used to the kind of field they played on Friday at Mississippi College in Clinton, Ms.
"He talked to the team after the practice," Coats said.
Another big influence was Coats, mother, Ruby, who passed away June 8 of this year.
"My mom never missed a Neville game from 1949 to 1999," Coats said. "She would be there for my dad, for me and my brothers (Tommy and Robert) and for our sister (Mary Coats Brown) who was over the Tigerettes. I hate she wasn't around for this. She would have enjoyed it. She and Coach Brown would have been there."
While winning a state title may seem a great way to go out, especially when you are losing 11 seniors, the 62-year-old Coats plans on returning next season.
"We'll be starting over," Coats said. "I didn't know for sure if we would have a team and was thinking we would just play a junior varsity schedule. But we've got enough and we're looking forward to next year. Hopefully we can continue to have success. It certainly was a lot of fun this season."
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