Godby High boys basketball coach Andy Colville couldn’t believe his eyes upon returning to his Slidell home— north of New Orleans, across Lake Ponchartrain— in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction.
Every house he drove past was marked in spray paint by a member of the U.S. Army or National Guard that had checked it out.
Every house had a number. Some had zeroes. If there was a number, that’s how many people died.
“You just drive and you’d see huge sailboats right on the road, right off the road,” Colville said. “There were houses completely ripped off their foundation. There were burnt houses. It was upsetting because you knew people lived in those houses.
“It was a war zone, and not just because it was torn up but because the military was combing the streets with machine guns,” he added. “It was scary, because you didn’t really know what was going on.”
Three months before Katrina made landfall in New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, Colville had left his head coaching position at Rickards High to take a job as an assistant coach at the University of New Orleans.
By the time his one year as an assistant was over, he would never coach a single game in UNO’s home arena.
“I’m not from New Orleans, and I didn’t live there long, but I’ll always love New Orleans,” Colville said. “It’s a brotherhood of people that have gone through that situation. Unless you’ve seen the destruction, it’s just hard to imagine.
“I saw people’s dreams die and parts of New Orleans die. You’re just left without words for the stuff you saw.”
In the days after the storm, there was scrambling. The Privateers’ coaching staff tried to get a hold of their players, but anyone with a local area code was unreachable.
Those players that were reached needed convincing to go to the University of Texas-Tyler, where UNO would relocate for the next four months of the semester.
Crosstown Tulane University was relocated to Texas A&M, which ended up being the venue for its rivalry game. For over a month, Privateers players slept on cots in UT-Tyler’s arena. Care packages from across the country supplied the clothing, such as shoes, players and coaches had lost.
It was through TV and aerial photos that Colville got his first glimpse of Slidell, eventually getting to return after an ‘all clear.’
“We had no idea there was water there, but our house had been five feet under water,” Colville said. “Everything was covered in mold. It’s hard to explain losing everything.”
In the months leading up to Aug. 29, Colville was running around leading camps and hitting the recruiting trail— everything he thought his Division I break would lead to.
Until that fateful day.
“I was telling my team sometimes you have to adjust your goals— not lower them, just adjust,” Colville said. “I never thought 10 years ago I’d have come back to Tallahassee and had a team that went 31-0 and win a state championship. It’s a little emotional.”