John Curtis School App
Coach JT Curtis Closes in on win #500
August 31, 2011John Curtis Christian High School
Versatile J.T. Curtis approaches 500 football coaching wins
Louisiana football coach also can cook, preach, analyze and motivate with the best.
Starting his 43rd year as head coach at John Curtis Christian School (River Ridge, La.), the 64-year-old Curtis has these enviable talents, each which conceivably could spawn an entirely different – and successful - career:
* He is a tremendous motivational speaker, who could make big money on the circuit, and a popular clinician.
* He is a superb football analyst who is part of a very successful Friday night television show in New Orleans.
* He is an excellent self-taught cook who could open his own restaurant.
* He is an ordained minister who preaches at a small church on campus each Sunday.
* During 27 years as head baseball coach, he won six state championships.
* By the way, he also is the headmaster and No. 2 winner in high school football history, just eight victories shy of the magical 500 mark with a 492-54-6 record. And he's a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
J.T., as he is called by everybody, explained that his father "wanted to teach all the ethical values and a relationship with Christ (with no denominational ties). The school is incorporated and we own the property."
After serving as a tackle under the outstanding coaching of Bob Whitman at East Jefferson High (Metairie, La.) and Frank Broyles (University of Arkansas), Curtis succeeded his father as head coach in 1969. He received a jolt of reality in his first year when only six players showed up for the first practice.
"I ran and went into my father's office where he was working," he related. "I said, ‘Daddy, we only had six kids. What am I supposed to do?' He said, ‘You get on the phone and start calling.' It was my responsibility."
It probably shouldn't be surprising that the Patriots lost the jamboree and went 0-10 in his first season as coach. They scored just two touchdowns all year.
"It never crossed my mind that we were going to lose the next one," he said about the disastrous campaign. "We have such a strong family background – a mom and dad who always said that all things were possible for God. It really didn't crush me. I just went out and went to work every day."
He quickly instilled an offseason program that included running and weight lifting. The players obviously bought into his rigorous program, because they rebounded big-time with an 8-1-1 record and a state playoff berth the very next year.
From the first day, he also has employed a no-cut philosophy. It has paid huge dividends over the years because he often gets freshmen or sophomores who improve greatly and make big contributions by the time they are juniors or seniors.
The 15-man coaching staff, which includes eight family members, is one of the most talented and stable groups in the country. Ironically, Curtis is the only member of the family coaching staff who did not play for and graduate from the school.
His younger brother, Leon, joined the staff in 1971. Today he coaches linebackers and has earned great respect as an outstanding defensive coach.
"What he does is that he especially pays attention to details," Leon said about J.T. "I'm glad to be a part of this. A lot of people didn't think it (the success) could happen. We won our first state title in 1975. (An opposing coach) said, 'Go ahead and enjoy. It won't last long.'"
The Patriots have won 22 more state titles since then and graduates continue to help stock the rosters of college and pro teams. J.T.'s sons, John III and Jeff, have a unique look at him, since both played for and now assist him.
John III, in his 16th year as an assistant, works with special teams and outside linebackers.
He says, "You realize how much of an advantage you've had – physically as well as mentally. At family dinners, 15 percent of our conversation is about football. He's not 24/7 football. He's done a great job of separating. I really don't see much difference in my dad. He's even more driven and focused now."
Now he has a son, John IV, a 12-year-old who is going through the same process as a water boy and ballboy for the varsity.
Jeff has been on the staff since 1999 and today he coaches quarterbacks and running backs. He calls it "a tremendous working relationship. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. It's the same that it was as a player and now as a coach. He treats everybody the same. It's a business and he treats everybody fairly. There's a lot of freedom to do what you want. It's just so amazing to think about his passion and drive."
Though the coaches have disagreements at times, they always settle them amicably and move on.
Lydia Curtis, who will be married to J.T. for 43 years on Sept. 14, knows him better than anybody else. The former cheerleader said, "It has been such a fabulous ride with a coach like him, because he pours his heart and soul into every season. He looks at each year as a new challenge. He looks very young. He looks younger than a lot of his players," she laughed.
Lydia has no objection to her sons coaching and teaching. She related, "They knew their grandfather's mission. They adored him and want to continue his mission."
She encouraged her husband to take up cooking in the early 1970s as a diversion from coaching and he has embraced it ever since. He calls his culinary wizardry "an opportunity to bring enjoyment to family and friends."
"The downside," Lydia noted, "is that he could never make small quantities, so I have to invite two or three families for dinner."
Lydia also is quite proud of her husband's weekly preaching, which is called "Curtis School on Sundays." He preaches to the remnants of the New Orleans Coliseum Baptist Church, which was built in 1854 and destroyed by a fire in 2006.
"Our dads both were ministers," she noted. "I tell John 'You listened a lot better than I did.' He really knows the Bible and is good at teaching football and the Bible."
This is the 20th season that J.T. has been involved with "Friday Night Football," a show that has expanded from 30 minutes to a full hour over the years on WGNO (Channel 26) in New Orleans. It covers up to a dozen prep football games each week from a 50-mile radius of New Orleans. There also are special features, such as the "Scholar Athlete of the Week."
"Being in a professional town, sometimes high school football can be back-page," J.T. conceded. "A lot of people laughed at us (when the show debuted). They're not laughing now."
Sports director Ed Daniels says the show "is doing well. There's a lot of interest in it. We have more sponsors, more photographers and are expanding to an hour for the first time."
He explained why he chose the John Curtis coach 20 years ago.
"He is very good in television. He can speak TV lingo, which is 20 seconds or less. If he wanted to, he could do college TV as an analyst. He gives us instant credibility. He leaves his game, changes into a suit and goes to work for an hour and a half. He narrates the highlights with me. And he marks all the scripts. He is a tireless worker."
It doesn't take much imagination to understand how difficult it is for the veteran coach to make his TV show each week when he almost always first has to complete his own game. He probably is bailed out most often by Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office volunteers Red Lindsey and Craig Gardner, an ex-player, who are with him on every game night. They can and often do provide quick delivery to the TV station or a satellite truck which may have to meet him halfway for a remote telecast.
Daniels pointed out J.T.'s dedication following Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005. By the seventh week of that football season, they were back on the air doing their weekly show on location.
Even while under personal duress, J.T. was a true professional on the air. Daniels recalled a heartbreaking 21-19 Curtis loss to Salmen (Slidell, La.) during which it squandered a 19-7 lead in the 1995 state quarterfinals.
"Of all the losses he's ever had, I'd say that was the toughest," Daniels said. "He came in that night and did the show flawlessly. When the red light came on, he did it like a pro. During the commercials he second-guessed everything he did."
Daniels credits John Curtis, Sr., with passing along some very strong qualities to his son.
"He's got incredible drive," Daniels pointed out. "In his mid-80s he was still working morning, noon and night. No way he could retire. Secondly he loved to compete, but he loved to win (even more). He had an unbelievable competitive zeal. His father was the first one out to get the trophy. His dad loved winning more than anybody I've ever known."
Could J.T. be a successful college coach?
"If he took his whole staff to a college right now, they would succeed wildly," Daniels predicted. "I wouldn't want to be in their conference. They'd win for the next 10 years. They know the scouting and recruiting game – all those (big-name) college coaches have been in his office. It would be like hiring Bill Gates to run your computer company.
"Working with him has been the best thing in my career (32 years) – the absolute highlight of my professional career."
Despite a career filled with accolades, J.T. Curtis is an extremely humble man.
"The one thing I've been most proud of through the years is that we have had very little ego," he stressed. "We're not going to have any ego. It's just not a part of who we are. We work together to achieve a goal. Nobody works for us. They work with us."
As his inevitable 500th victory comes into focus this fall, J.T. says, "It's obviously a real milestone and something to be proud of. There are so many people who have contributed to that number. It's very difficult for me to take a lot of credit for it. I don't mean that in a corny way. It's just the truth. It's a little humbling. A bunch of us have won 500."
Leon Curtis best summed up his brother's reaction when he does notch that magical 500th victory.
He predicted, "He'll probably do the same thing when he won his first game. He'll get ready for the next game."