Longtime St. James coach inspired others, fought illness bravely
It’s rare that John Curtis is 0-for-1 in anything related to the football field, but fun fact about my rookie year of sports writing: I only knew the Patriots as a district runner-up through that 2007 season, their hopes of winning that league dashed by Rick Gaille’s St. James Wildcats.
That season was my introduction to Gaille, making me one of the many who have been fortunate enough to acquaint ourselves with a man who was nothing less than a total class act any time we spoke.
Gaille passed away Sunday at the age of 67, ultimately losing a long battle with cancer. By all accounts, he fought the illness with all the fortitude and determination he consistently inspired in his players over his 19 seasons as head coach of his Wildcats.
Gaille was not only a great football coach, but he impressed as a writer and broadcaster as well, offering his unique insight into not only the prep game, but also the NFL. I know I always enjoyed his breakdown of the Saints’ performances and knew he had a viewpoint on strategy that can only come with years of sharpening in competition.
But I’ll certainly fondly remember his teams, starting with that 2007 Wildcats crew that stormed all the way to the Superdome for the Class 2A championship game. Though Curtis won the rematch and the championship, that St. James team was truly special, remarkably talented and well-prepared.
Gaille took three St. James teams to the state championship game before stepping away from the game in 2010.
Though I love the NFL game, one thing I’ve always appreciated about the collegiate game and the prep game alike is the diverse strategies teams use to build their teams. In the NFL, teams have different tendencies and use different terminology, but most teams’ offensive attacks don’t venture too far from one another. In college and at the prep level, that’s less the case.
And Gaille’s offense was certainly unique. He wasn’t the first or last coach to run the Wing-T, but it’s become less and less common over the years. While extremely run heavy, that Wildcats team that went to the Dome was certainly explosive in every way, including its athletes, its penchant for generating big plays and the bone-chilling hits levied by its defensive players.
St. Charles Parish fans are certainly familiar with Gaille’s St. James teams, particularly those who bleed purple and gold. Hahnville traditionally locked horns with St. James for years in the preseason jamboree, and though the Wildcats were a 2A team in classification, they certainly were not in ability — his Wildcats routinely played up in class.
Ultimately the one lasting image I’ll always have of Coach Gaille is the way he always treated me like an old friend whenever I’d see him at championship events and at games in our region. I’ll also remember the way he inspired people. And I’m comforted to know he rests in peace.