COACHES’ CORNER: Once a Cowboy, Worthen was always a Cowboy

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Last in a series

If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear that when they opened the doors of Southwood High School in 1970, Ron Worthen fell in.

Not exactly, but close.

He has a 36-year career as a coach and teacher at the school. It wasn’t unusual then (as well as now) for coaches to change schools during their careers, but not Worthen. He was head football coach at Southwood for 12 years (1983-94) as well as coaching the offensive line as an assistant.

His career could have taken a different turn before he ended up on Walker Road. After a career at Arkansas State, he was chosen as a center by Super Bowl champion Green Bay in the 1968 NFL Draft.  But a herniated disk put him on what was known as the “taxi squad” for the Packers and after a playing for a season in minor league football, he took a job with Liberty Mutual Insurance in Shreveport.

“I spent a lot of time on death cases and putting a value on that,” Worthen says. “That didn’t appeal to me too much.”

Because he had a teaching certificate, he decided to try a new career and took a job at Southwood. (Strangely enough, the school started before the building was ready, so some Southwood students actually took classes at Woodlawn for a few months.)

The new school quickly grew in population and the Cowboys didn’t waste any time becoming one of the top football programs in the city. The battles with neighboring Woodlawn routinely drew crowds of 15,000 or more.

When Ken Ivy left after the 1982 season, Worthen was one of five finalists to become head coach. This was a time in which Southwood had what was described in a newspaper story as “the largest – and most – active group of followers among Shreveport schools.”

During the spring of 1983, that became evident in the hiring process (as well as being an example of how times have changed). A screening committee recommended another candidate, but Southwood boosters made their voices heard and the School Board overruled the committee and named Worthen.

If there were any lingering problems, Worthen put them quickly to rest. The Cowboys were 8-2 and co-district champions during his first year but – get this – didn’t make the playoffs due to the tie-breaker system at the time. (See how times have changed?)

From 1986 to 1988, Worthen led the Cowboys to a 13-2 district record and won or shared the district title all three years. His ’87 team made it to the quarterfinals.

He would have another quarterfinal team in 1991 (going 10-3 overall) before stepping down as head coach after the 1994 season. He is still the winningest coach in Southwood history with a record of 81-53-1 (.604).

“I got out when I felt like it was time to go,” the 77-year-old Worthen says. “It was the right move at the right time.”

Among the list of teams that knocked his Southwood teams out of the playoffs are familiar stumbling blocks for local schools during the 1980s and ’90s – the Cowboys fell to Ruston, Ouachita and three times to Neville.

But playing Neville wasn’t anything new for Worthen’s teams.

“The great thing about coaching is the relationship you develop with the kids,” he says. “That’s the reason I stayed in it for 36 years. The bad thing is that in Louisiana, the boards of education really don’t support athletic programs as far as funding or anything else. I had to go get games against big-name schools.”

In each of Worthen’s 12 years, the Cowboys’ opening game was with either Texarkana (Ark.), Marshall (Texas), Neville or Barbe. Southwood only won two of those. “But you had to play them to get better,” he says.

When he retired from Southwood, Worthen took a job with the Shreveport Regional Arts Council and worked there until 2015. “That kind of took my mind off of coaching,” he says. “I really didn’t miss it.”

Contact JJ at johnjamesmarshall@yahoo.com

https://shreveportbossierjournal.com/2022/07/26/coaches-corner-the-buc-starts-here-at-will-marston/