07 Jun Airo AV Imply: Don Wattigny, architect of Edna Karr football dies at 81,…
Don Wattigny was wearing a gold Edna Karr High School t-shirt when he took his last breath late Saturday night.
What the 81-year old Wattigny was wearing shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knew the man who laid the foundation for one of the most successful football programs in Louisiana.
“He wouldn’t have had it any other way,” said his daughter Shanon. “He always had on a Karr shirt. Always.”
Karr meant everything to Wattigny.
And Wattigny meant everything to Karr.
He was around long before Karr became a high school.
He worked there when the school first opened its doors as a junior high in the early 1960’s. He was there on when Dave Lutenbacher, the school’s first principal, chose purple and gold as the school colors and Cougars as the school nickname. He was there when Lutenbacher came up with the motto “Second to None,” those three words deeply ingrained into the minds of every student who has walked the hallways at Karr.
But most importantly, Wattigny was there when Karr became a high school and needed a head football coach.
Wattigny guided the Cougars to the Class 3A state title in 1993 during his first season and reached the championship game again in 1995 and 1999. He planted the seed that first season and it continues to grow.
Karr has since won five more state titles, including its fourth straight this past December under Brice Brown. The dynasty began with Wattigny.
“He was the pillar of the varsity program,” Brown said. “But his lasting impact will be how many lives he impacted. For me, he wasn’t just my coach, but he was a father figure and mentor.”
Wattigny’s final season at Karr was 2002, but that didn’t stop him from being an avid supporter of the program he built. Brown knew he could always count on his former coach to arrive at Behrman Stadium an hour before kickoff on Friday nights to chat with the coaches before taking his same ole seat to watch the Cougars play.
Jabbar Juluke, currently the running backs coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, had the unenviable task of replacing Wattigny and continuing Karr’s success.
“He was the pioneer of Karr,” Juluke said. “Most of the time when the head coaching jobs change, it’s because the program wasn’t good. But I inherited a really solid, strong, fundamental, disciplined and structured group of young men. That’s because of what he had instilled.”
Wattigny made sure the transition was a smooth one for Juluke, offering plenty of advice along the way.
“We would always have conversations about life and how to impact the young men that we are in charge of,” Juluke said. “One thing he taught me was to treat ’em all fairly. Be stern and firm and they will run through a wall for you. If you show them that you really care and you love them, they will give you their all. That was one of the main things that stuck with me.”
His lessons weren’t always so profound. Some were more humorous, like the advice he gave his running backs back in the day when he had an offensive line that featured Brock Hays and Brown.
“You see those two big asses? Just run right behind them,” Brown recalls Wattigny telling the team one day.
Karr make winning look so easy now. But it wasn’t always easy, as any Karr player, past or present, who has had the history lesson in Room 202 can tell you.
Room 202 at Karr is where Wattigny first started building the program.
It’s the room where Wattigny would have to push the desks to one side of the room so his players would have room to lift weights. Coaches take the players there to educate them about the program’s roots and the man who started it all.
Wattigny leaves behind his wife Edith, his high school sweetheart who he married on Christmas Day in 1960, and their three daughters: Janell, Shanon and Beth. He also has six grandchildren, including one of his grandsons who he watched play baseball on Saturday hours before passing away.
“He spent his last day doing what he loved, watching my son play baseball,” is daughter Shanon said.
While Wattigny is most associated with Karr, he also spent time as an assistant football coach and head track coach at De La Salle from 1984-1991.
That’s where Willie Brooks first met Wattigny. Brooks played for Wattigny at De La Salle and later became defensive coordinator for him at Karr. The two became close friends, talking on the telephone several times a week.
“He was like second dad,” Brooks said. “Any major decision I ever made, I consulted with him. We had some great times and some great teams.”
And because of the foundation Wattigny laid, Karr continues to have great teams.
“Karr meant the world to him,” Brook said. “He’s the Godfather. He paved the way for winning and success there and I know he’s very proud of the legacy he’s left behind.”