John Jack is pictured here in the main picture during his first year of coaching the Mamou Demon basketball program in 1985. That year he led his team to the state finals against White Castle. He retired following the playoff loss this season to Madison High. He spent 37 years at Mamou as a player and a coach. (Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Jack) In the inset picture, is John Jack as he looks today standing in the Mamou High School Gym. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
At the end of the measuring stick
Nowadays it is extremely rare for basketball coaches like John Wooden at UCLA and Dean Smith at North Carolina to spend their entire career at one school.
The probable lone exception in today’s coaching landscape is Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
While these examples stem from college basketball, the premise also holds true for high school basketball. One exception is Mamou High School’s John Jack, who retired after this season. To make his story more rare, not only did he coach at Mamou for 33 years, but he also played there as a high school student.
“I’ve had people ask me how I did 33 years at one school, and I always thought that is what everybody did,” Jack said. “I thought you started your career coaching and stayed at that place, but I quickly realized that’s not always true.”
He continued, “I’ve known many coaches to venture off to other places and other schools, but, for me, it’s special in the fact that I was able to start here and finish here. That means something to me because this is my school. I came to school here and graduated here and am very thankful I was able to teach and coach here for as long as I have.”
While a student at Mamou, Jack played every sport, and, according to him, that is virtually unheard of. “I loved football and basketball, but basketball just seemed more natural to me,” he explained. “I didn’t have to work as hard playing the game of basketball like I did playing the other sports, so that’s why I ended up coaching basketball as opposed to football or any other sport.”
Jack knew he wanted to go into coaching while he was in junior high, and the idea got reaffirmed while in high school. “As I got older and got into high school, I knew I wanted to go to college, and I hadn’t really thought about doing anything else,” he said. “I knew I wanted to coach, and I knew that meant I had to be a teacher as well. It’s just something I guess I was destined to do.”
His coaching destiny began with a phone call from a good friend Donald Frank, who was the head coach at the time for Mamou. “He called and said he was really thinking about getting out of coaching, and he said he knew I was graduating college and I wanted to coach,” Jack commented. “He said it was an excellent opportunity for me because it was home for me. I came and interviewed and ended up getting the job.”
“The very first year that I coached, I just inherited a really good team,” he continued. “Our record that year was 35-3, and we ended up playing for the state championship. We lost by, I think, two points to White Castle. That was a hell of a ride.”
Jack gives the credit for that championship game run in 1986 to his players. As he said, “I inherited some really good kids. It certainly wasn’t much coaching. It was a talented group, and I just kind of provided the leadership that was needed.”
Over the next 32 years, Jack has seen talent come and go from the hallowed halls of Mamou High. “We’ve always had talent here, and the program I inherited was in good shape,” he expressed. “When I took the job, I just kind of ran with it. There were a few down years, but I’m happy that we were able to make the state playoffs in 21 out of the 33 years that I coached, which is a measuring stick.”
He added, “You are measured by how well you do and if you end up going to the playoffs. I was happy that all these kids on all those teams that played for me were able to have some kind of success.”
Jack’s coaching career was influenced by other high school basketball coaches in the area including Donald Dupre at Northwest and Butch Fontenot at North Central. “We’ve got some good local coaches around here who have helped me along the way and become the coach I ended up being.”
All these influences led Jack to come up with his own coaching philosophy. “The one thing that I always knew about basketball is people have different philosophies according to their personnel,” he explained. “You have to pattern your philosophy around it. We’ve always been able to play really tough defense here at Mamou. I’ve always believed in playing man-to-man and being aggressive. I’ve always believed in playing a fast game.”
“We’ve never played slow or deliberate,” Jack continued. “It just wasn’t the way that I played, and it’s certainly not the way I wanted to coach.”
While his coaching philosophy has remained constant, what has changed is the type of athlete that has played basketball for Mamou. “Time has changed, and the kids are different,” Jack explained. “Certainly these kids I coach today and the ones I coached 15-20 years ago are very different. There’s so much out there today that the kids are exposed to, and I’m always stressing that you’ve got to work hard.”
He continued, “I feel like the kids 20 years ago worked probably harder to achieve. What’s sad about it is these kids here that I’m coaching are probably as talented or even more talented, but it’s just the work ethic is not the same. There are more distractions, too, but they feel they don’t have to work as hard.”
Jack’s last game on the sidelines was a home playoff loss to Madison High School, which Jack called a team with a lot of tradition. “I saw what district they came out of, and they were in a tough district with Richwood, Union Parish, and Wossman,” he stated. “I told my coaches this team was 2-8 in district but to look at the teams they played.”
“I really thought we played well,” Jack said about his team’s performance against Madison. “I thought up until the very end that we had a chance to win. I think with about four or five minutes left in the game, we had a 6-point lead. For whatever reason, we turned the ball over and didn’t capitalize on free throws.”
The silver lining for Jack was that it meant his final game in his coaching career would be at Mamou. He said, “I was certainly thankful for that. I saw it setting up, and I said if we’re going to lose at least we’ll be at home.”
Now that Jack is retired, he admits that he is going to miss coaching at Mamou, but he looks forward to the future. “Now it’s time to venture to something else with my family. I just want to spend time with my family and do some fishing and travel. I want to do things that I hadn’t had the chance to do a whole lot because of coaching.”
He concluded with some final reflections on his more than three decade tenure at Mamou. “For me, I look at coaching as a teaching moment, and, hopefully, these young men have learned from me. I’ve always wanted to be a molder of young men, and I hope that all of those young men that I’ve had the opportunity to coach have enjoyed it. Hopefully, they become better people because I was involved in their lives, and certainly they’ve made me a better person.”