Jimmy “Chick” Childress never talked to his players much about x’s and o’s.
That’s hard for some to believe given his reputation, but anyone who wore that red helmet with the shiny white “R” of Ruston High School on the side will tell you the same.
Childress made his reputation as a football coach as a forward-thinking defensive strategist. He’s credit for making the four-man front North Louisiana’s high school defense of-choice among other innovations.
Those things were important, but they weren’t what Chick valued most. Character and integrity where the two words every Ruston Bearcat hear over and over again. Not shutouts — but he was fond of those — whose job it was to fill the alley on defense or other intricacies of his beloved defense.
“He always said it was about those two things, especially later in his career when I played for him. He was a firm believer that you could win with that,” said Brad Laird, Childress’ last quarterback at Ruston and now the head coach of the Bearcats.
“Our community will always be grateful for what he brought to us. We see it every day when we walk into the field house and our young men see all those trophies.”
When Childress died on Sunday, he left behind more than just four state championships and a name to put on the field house door.
“The best way I can describe Chick is as a friend but he was also the anchor of our staff,” said Sonny Smith, who coached with Childress at Neville for Bill Ruple and Charlie Brown. “He was proud of that defense and rightly so. He hated to see anyone score.”
It’s been said that nothing could make Childress just plain fighting-mad like seeing his defense give up points. It didn’t happen very much when he ran the defense at Neville or later on at Ruston.
Childress joined a Hall-of-Fame staff at Neville that included Smith, Ruple, Brown and Charles “Buck” Stewart and stayed for 15 years. When Brown succeeded Ruple as head coach, Childress and Smith became his top lieutenants.
His defense was the catalyst behind Neville’s celebrated 1972 state championship team that won three games in eight days — all shutouts.
The four-man front came with Childress to Lincoln Parish when he took over at Ruston, where he built the Bearcats into one of Louisiana high school football’s defining teams of the 1980s.
“Coming up through junior high we all knew everything about it and how many state championships they won,” said John Carr, the director of football operations at Southern Miss and a former Ruston player.
“You looked forward to playing for him so much but you also learned there was an expectation that came along with that you better live up to.”
No game better encapsulated Chick’s brand of football than the 1982 Class 4A state championship game. Ruston beat old rival Neville 8-0, scoring on a blocked punt and a safety.
Ruston defensive end/linebacker Michael Brooks, a future All-American at LSU and Pro-Bowler for the Denver Broncos famous for hitting a quarterback so hard it broke the flak jacket protecting the passer’s ribs, destroyed everything in front of him that day.
“I can tell you that’s the best ball player we ever played against,” Smith said. “We couldn’t block him and neither could anyone in the SEC.”
The Bearcats went on to win three more state titles over the next eight years.
Childress’ best team was his last in 1990. Ruston set a 4A Prep Classic record for most-points scored by beating Catholic-Baton Rouge 52-10 and went on to capture the high school national championship.
Ruston’s roster ran deep with talent and featured LSU signees linebacker Bobby Williams and defensive back Rodney Young — a future New York Giant — and running back Roymon Malcolm, who signed with Auburn and finished his career at Northwestern State. Laird was the quarterback and Carr played receiver on that team.
“It’s funny when you look at that season because we all knew it was his last year but he never let it be about that,” Laird said. “It was always about the players and the Ruston community.”
Chick never mentioned his impending departure or basked in the glory of his championship rings. He still talked to the players the same way and told the same stories.
Anyone who ever played at Ruston knew that Childress would never go for two at the end of the game. Ruston would play all night if need be and were reminded at every Thursday walk-through.
Every Bearcat knew not to come in the field house with “a chocolate Yoo-Hoo and a burger doodle,” or a “peach Nehi and a goober wheel” before a big game. Childress also insisted every member of the media “flower it up” when it came time to write about Ruston’s Friday night contest.
Childress kept tabs on all his guys after his retirement, but paid close attention to the ones that got into coaching for himself.
He was there the day Carr was introduced as the head coach at Ouachita Parish High School in Monroe, the team that ran neck-in-neck with Ruston in the 80s. After taking over at Ruston in 2013, Laird knew to expect a visit from Chick every week; always on Tuesdays and at 10:30.
Laird and Carr already had fathers in the business — Billy Laird and Roger Carr — but they also had a third in their coach.
“That group of players we had and the things we were able to do was special, but that was all because of him,” Carr said.
“There are so many like me and we’re all eternally grateful for everything he did for us.”
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