COACHES’ CORNER: Kimble kept at it, built Green Oaks powerhouse

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Let’s start with the hat, perhaps the least important part of the Gerald Kimble legacy.

He was always easy to spot on the Green Oaks sideline when he was coaching because he always wore a white floppy hat.

“I just got to wearing it one day out at practice and it just became a part of my wardrobe and that was it,” he says. “So I just wore it for 38 years.”

Unless you saw it for yourself, you can’t possibly understand what Kimble did to change the Green Oaks football program. Go ahead and make a list of great program turnarounds in Louisiana history and make sure you have Kimble on that list.

In the 1970s, any high school coach knew there was no way he’d have the worst program in the area because Green Oaks had the title cinched every year. In 1976, the Giants only scored five touchdowns all season and had a four-game stretch of being outscored 121-0.

In 1977, eight of the nine losses were by at least 13 points.

Then Kimble arrived.

When he tried to assemble a team for his first spring training, only 11 players showed up. So Kimble asked Green Oaks principal Tom James if he could have an assembly of the boys who would be coming back to school in the fall. He asked them one question: Do you want to play football?

Sixty said yes.

“Now, I was kind of flashy at the time,” Kimble says. “I drove a Jaguar and had a lot of jewelry, so maybe they were impressed with that. And I knew all 60 wouldn’t really come out (for football). But about 40 showed up.”

One of them was a kid named Willie Rogers. “I had some of the coaches who had been there tell me, ‘You don’t want that Rogers boy. He’s always in trouble,’ but I said ‘We are going to give him a chance,’” Kimble says. “Turns out he was one of the best kids I ever had because we gave him a chance.”

You want the formula for what happened? That’s it right there. Gerald Kimble built a community around a football team. Once he got parents and siblings involved, that excitement built all the momentum he needed to turn it around.

The Giants didn’t win a game in ’79, but four of the first five losses were by a touchdown or less.

After beating Green Oaks 10-7 in 1978 in the third game of Kimble’s career, Jesuit (now Loyola) coach Anthony Catanese was asked by another local coach, “How did you beat Green Oaks by only three points?”

“Let me tell you something,” Catanese told him. “There’s a new sheriff in town. And his name is Gerald Kimble.”

There was a devastating loss to Airline near the end of the ’78 season. The 26th loss in a row came by two points when the Vikings converted a fourth-and-16 in the fourth quarter. (Kimble also remembers an inadvertent whistle costing the Giants a touchdown.)

After the game, no one was more devasted than junior linebacker Paul Pugh, who told his coach “Coach, I’ve never walked off the field a winner.”

The streak was at 29 when the 1979 season opened against Marion (Lake Charles). Pugh blocked a punt that set up a score as Green Oaks won 33-0.

The streak was over. The Giants would lose the next week, then win eight in a row against teams such as Jesuit, West Monroe, Airline and Captain Shreve before losing 12-7 in the Class 4A playoffs.

Yes, Green Oaks – a team that never won more than three games in a season for an entire decade and was 0-10 the previous year – had won a district championship and made the playoffs.

But Kimble didn’t stop there. The Giants finished either first or second in District 2-AAAA in each of the next six years and won nine games every year from 1982 to 1984. The program had three quarterbacks who went on to play in college. Linebacker Roovelroe Swan was one of the top recruits in the country and led the Giants to a 10-win season in 1988.

It was also the last year at Green Oaks for Kimble, who moved on to Southern University. In 11 years as head coach for the Giants, Kimble was 76-40 (.655) overall, but remember, that includes a 0-10 first season.

“I was a strong disciplinarian,” he says. “And I could be rough on them. One kid was not bigger than the team. Being at practice was a big thing to me. But I told them that I was in their corner and I would stand up for them. But you know what? I was also getting help from the (players’) families to make sure they didn’t get out of line.”

He was at Southern as head coach for three years and then coached at Southern Lab, leading the Kittens to the Superdome Classic in 1996, and also coached a year at Booker T. Washington.

He’s still working – “I’m 80-and-a-half years old” – and has been working for the Volunteers for Youth Justice since 2011, still coaching, in an important way.

Contact JJ at JohnJamesMarshall@yahoo.com