BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's been two years since the Louisiana High School Athletic Association split public and private schools for football playoffs, but over the next two days, officials will consider what to do next.
The LHSAA divided football playoffs into two sets of brackets in 2013, nearly doubling its championship games from five to nine and creating a system that puts winless teams in the postseason. WAFB hosted a coaches' roundtable to evaluate the split.
"I just think it's like an ugly outfit; we tried it [and] it didn't really look good on us," said Robert Valdez, head coach of West St. John. "So, can we get back to what we've normally been wearing and what we've been doing? Everybody wants to give little Johnny and little Susie a trophy, not for trying, but just for showing up. And, they have a lot of people making decisions about football issues, who are not football people. It's okay to say, 'We made a mistake.'"
Of course, not every coach, or fan for that matter, sees the current system as a mistake. An overwhelming vote two years ago paved the way for Livonia to make its first two Superdome trips ever."
"I can tell you the morning after the state championship, when I woke up with a text on my phone from our quarterback asking if we could play U-High next year and they won the private, that was the first thing on the kids' mind is, 'Hey, we want to compete against the best,'" said Guy Mistretta, head coach of Livonia. "So, this is definitely an adult driven split."
"Tommy Minton told his kids (at Patterson) that we were having a split," said Kenny Guillot, former head coach of Parkview Baptist. "They raised their hands and said, 'Coach, you mean we don't get to play Parkview anymore?' And he said 'No.' And, they were disappointed. We had played them two years in a row and it was a great game. Great competition, great crowd, great enthusiasm."
"I think it's important that we do our best to keep that and with the split being the way it is," said Nick Mitchell, head coach of Southern Lab. "Like coach said, there are some kids whose fathers played against those same rival teams and whose uncles shared those stories at the Thanksgiving table about playing against a Parkview and playing against a Livonia."
Yet, Robert Signator, head coach of McKinley, has his own stories about the best team he ever coached at Clinton, which was no match for private school powerhouse John Curtis and 26 titles.
"Everybody knows why the split happened," Signator said. "We sit here and don't like to talk about it, but everybody knows why. What's the difference between the shade tree mechanic and the mechanic? It's the tools and what you have to work with."
"Destrehan and West Monroe," said Neil Weiner, head coach of Dunham. "They've got the same tools."
"Where do we draw that line?" asked Terence Williams, a member of the LHSAA executive committee. "Do we say, 'Okay, you inner city schools, you can play together?' Do we say, 'Your community schools, your Amites and your West Monroes, let those guys play together?'"
"The reasons for it. They're there and they're real. And, if we can make some adjustments, it's not going to go back together unless the public schools feel comfortable that it's as even a playing field as possible. There's no such thing as an even playing field," Mistretta added.
None of the men seem happy with the split. Yet, they all agree something should be done about recruiting, although perception is not always reality.
You coached so many years in public school and then you were at Parkview and won championships. Did you have an unfair advantage when you were there?
"I don't think so (laughs along with other coaches)," Guillot answered.
Some people do think so.
"I know, I know. When I got the job at Parkview, Mr. Hill said, 'Kenny, you know, you'll probably never win a state championship at Parkview.' I said, 'Darrell, that's not why I got in coaching.' I don't think anyone in this forum right here sat down whether they went to Northwestern, where I went, Southern or wherever they went or got into coaching and said, 'I'm going to win five state championships.' I coached for the love of the kids," Guillot explained.
"We can sit here and say it's about training the kids and making the kid a better student. But, you know better than I do, if you don't win, you're gone," Signator stated.
And, each voiced concern for the far-reaching impact if leadership doesn't fix what they view as a broken system.
"Keep intact the integrity of what it means to make the playoffs in the state Louisiana. We produce the greatest football talent in the entire country, per capita. There's nothing better than Louisiana football. The integrity takes a knock when we have nine state champions and we have teams that don't win a game or only win one game. I mean, it's gotta mean something," Weiner said.
The voting takes place over the next two days, with the big vote expected to take place on Friday.