Longtime high school coach enjoying retirement
Fri. August 16, 2013 at 10:18 p.m. | By Chris Singleton/Staff Writer
Cleve Joseph retired as Ellender's athletic director at the end of the 2012-13 school year after spending 21 years at the school. (Photo by Abby Tabor/Staff)
For 36 years, Cleve Joseph roamed the boisterous hallways of local schools as a teacher and coach.
He dealt with the day-to-day duties of the job such as grading papers, constructing lesson plans, mentoring coworkers and passing on knowledge about sports and life to eager young minds.
But these days, Joseph's life moves at a much slower pace.
Joseph retired from teaching and coaching at the end of the 2012-13 school year. He served as an assistant football coach and teacher at H.L. Bourgeois from 1981-92, and he had various roles as a head football coach, teacher and athletic director at Ellender High from 1992 until his retirement this year.
After taking part in a career that spanned nearly four decades, Joseph said he was ready to move on to a new chapter of his life.
"It was time," the 57-year-old Joseph said. "I just wanted to spend more time with my little grandson. It was just time for me to step down and give the younger guys a chance to do their thing."
Joseph said he is still getting used to the retired life.
When he was working, he said he woke up at 4 every morning to take the drive from his Thibodaux home to work in Terrebonne Parish. He said he still wakes up early every morning, but instead of heading to work and dealing with young students, he enjoys staying at home with his wife of 38 years in Linda Joseph.
"My wife told me I'm running her crazy and that I have to find a job," Joseph said with his recognizable grin, "but I'm enjoying my retirement right now. I'm just taking it easy."
Joseph said he needed a break after years of teaching, but his retirement has left a noticeable void in Ellender's athletic department, where he served in many capacities like athletic director. The reality of his retirement hit when the new school year started on Aug. 8.
"When I walk in every morning, I'm looking for him," said Ellender's girls basketball coach Kenneth Dixon, a longtime friend of Joseph. "He was always here, but I don't see him anymore. It broke my heart. We miss him. We had some real good times."
Ellender principal Cory Butler said Joseph was an influential figure who retired on his own terms.
"When he decided to retire, it kind of shocked everybody," Butler said. "We knew eventually it would happen, but we didn't want to see him go. He was a piece of Ellender for a long time. He was just a good, kind-hearted guy. I never had issues with Coach Joe. He was just one of those type of people who come around only once in a lifetime."
Joseph said it was difficult to retire but he has no regrets about his decision.
"It was tough to step down," Joseph said. "I really miss it, but I had some good times at Ellender and at H.L. Bourgeois. It was great."
A FOOTBALL LIFE
As a native of Schriever, Joseph grew up playing football and was a standout offensive tackle at Terrebonne High.
After graduating from Terrebonne in 1973, Joseph went on to play college football as an offensive tackle at Tulane University from 1973-77.
Joseph said he had some great years at Tulane. In his freshman season in 1973, the Green Wave went 9-3 overall and picked up a 14-0 win over LSU, which was Tulane's first win in the series in 36 years. Joseph was a member of Tulane's 1973 team that went to the Bluebonnet Bowl, where it lost 47-7 to Houston.
As his college playing days started to end in 1977, Joseph said he had aspirations of joining the professional ranks, but an injury in his senior season forced him to start thinking about life away from the game.
But he loved the game so much that he had to stick with it in some capacity.
"When I finished playing, my coaches told me if you can't play the game anymore, go teach the game," Joseph said. "That's what I did. I just loved being around football."
His teaching and coaching career started in 1977 at Lacache Middle School in Chauvin, and he later moved to Ellender Junior High before joining the staff at H.L. Bourgeois in 1981.
In his 12 seasons with the Braves, he immediately made an impact as an assistant football coach. He was young and energetic, and he could easily relate to the players from his own playing experience and background.
Sterling Washington was one of those young players who looked up to Joseph. Washington played at H.L. Bourgeois from 1981 to 1984, and he said Joseph's best trait was instilling the values of hard work and discipline in his players.
Washington went on to become Ellender's boys basketball coach in 1998 when he led the Patriots to its first ever state championship. He is now serving as the Terrebonne Parish recreation director.
"Coach Joe was instrumental in developing me as a football player, but also as a coach," Washington said. "The one thing he always preached was there were no substitutes for hard work. You've got to get out there and put the work in to get the results. That has impacted me throughout my career."
Joseph said he enjoyed his years at H.L. Bourgeois, but he was ready to move on to bigger things, and a challenge was waiting at Ellender.
At age 37, he joined Ellender as its head football coach in 1992, becoming the first-ever black head football coach at a Terrebonne Parish School since integration. Joseph said he never saw his race as an issue, as his main goal was to "be known as a good football coach."
Joseph said he got the head football coach job at Ellender off the recommendation from Ernest Brown Sr., who was Ellender's athletic director at the time. Ellender converted from a junior high into a high school in 1988, and Brown was in charge of putting the school's athletic program. In their first three seasons as a high school football team, the Patriots had a 3-27 record.
Brown, a fellow Terrebonne High graduate, said he was close to Joseph and his family over the years, so he knew what kind of coach Ellender was getting in 1992. In Joseph's first five seasons at Ellender, he led the Patriots to four playoff berths.
"He has always been a loyal and dedicated and committed coach whose interest was to help young kids," Brown said. "He definitely made an impact on Ellender when he came over there. He coached some outstanding football teams for a couple of years."
Brown said Joseph was always an imposing figure, standing at 6-foot-4, 275-pounds during his playing days, but those who knew him said he was a good man who always treated his players with respect.
"He was a giant of a man, but a teddy bear," Brown said. "He had one of the most humble personalities I've ever seen. Those are the kind of traits that draw you to a coach. He was very friendly, kind and generous. You can always count on him to be there for you when you need him."
Joseph had a 31-35 record in eight seasons as Ellender's football coach. The Patriots had plenty of success in Joseph's first few seasons, but near the end of his tenure in 2000, the program started to endure several losing seasons.
"In our first couple of years (at Ellender), we had some success," he said. "We had a lot of kids that went both ways and played football and basketball, but after that, the kids started specializing. We couldn't get the kids to come out. It was really exciting. I had some good years at Ellender. I really did. I enjoyed the school so much."
Joseph said he had a great support system as a coach, especially from his wife Linda and their two children.
"I wasn't at home a lot of times," Joseph said. "I was coaching somebody else's kids, but my wife knew that and she was behind me 100 percent, and I appreciate that."
A NEW FOCUS
In 2000, Joseph said goodbye to his head football coaching career and moved into the athletic director spot at Ellender.
Joseph said he didn't want to leave football, but the time-consuming work of being an athletic director made it hard to balance both jobs at the same time.
"That was an awesome experience moving into the athletic director job," Joseph said. "Ernie Brown told me, ‘You're not just the football coach, and now you have to look at the total program.' That's what I did. I thought I did a good job looking out for the whole program."
Joseph served as Ellender's athletic director for 12 years until his retirement. He still coached at times by doing stints as the head track coach and ninth grade girls' basketball coach.
"I did it all in my days at Ellender," Joseph said. "I've taught so many life lessons as a teacher and coach, but it taught me a lot too."
Dixon said Joseph is a big reason for Ellender's success in athletics over the years; especially when it comes to basketball, where it became the only Terrebonne Parish school to win a state championship in both boys and girls basketball. Dixon said Ellender never had any major infractions or violations of Louisiana High School Athletic Association rules during Joseph's watch.
"He did a good job," Dixon said. "He was always my assurance that everything is going to be alright on what rules or regulations I had to go through. He was always on top of that stuff. We'll just have to make adjustments without him. If I have any questions, I'm going to give him a call. I've got him right here on speed dial."
Joseph said the biggest reward from his entire career was seeing so many of his former players like Washington and current Ellender assistant principal Scotty Dryden go on to become productive leaders in the community.
"All those guys worked hard and did something with their lives," Joseph said. "That's what I enjoyed about the job. I think the school is in good hands."
Butler said he will forever be thankful for Joseph. When Butler finished his college football career at Nicholls in 1992, he said Joseph offered him his first coaching job as an assistant coach at Ellender.
"I was a young kid coming out of college, and he gave me a shot," Butler said. "That's all I could say. I took advantage of it. Everyone admired the person that he was. He would do anything in the world for you."
Sterling Washington said Joseph deserves a break after helping so many over the years.
"He has put the time in," Sterling Washington said. "He has developed a lot of young people into productive citizens. As a coach, that is one thing you want to do. The ultimate goal is to utilize the sport to make them a better athlete, but also to make them a better person in life. I think he has done an outstanding job in that area throughout his career."
Current Ellender football coach Terry Washington, who has replaced Joseph as Ellender's new athletic director, said Joseph was a true professional who always put the needs of his coaches and players first. He said Joseph had an open door policy and was always present at all Ellender sporting events.
"Coach Joe was more like a big brother and mentor," Terry Washington said. "I'm trying to get used to him not being here. He's a guy that when things are not going well, I'll go talk to him, and he'll lift you up. People would come in just to talk, not just about football, but about life and anything else. He was just a guy you could lean on and talk to. He was always there. That's what I'm really going to miss."
When Ellender snapped a 32-game losing streak in football last year over rival Terrebonne, Washington said one of the first people he shared a celebratory hug with was Joseph.
"He's been through the ups and downs," Terry Washington said. "I'm glad that we were able to enjoy that moment with him. He's been here through those tough years. It was great to share that moment with him."
Even younger Ellender coaches like Cornell Scott, who is beginning his second season as the Patriots head boys basketball coach, credited Joseph as a big influence.
"He was one of my mentors when I first got here," Scott said. "He took me under his wing and taught me the do's and don'ts of teaching. He always gave me a few tidbits on his coaching philosophy. He is really missed around here."
Joseph said he will never forget the great relationships he has formed throughout his coaching career. Even in retirement, he plans to continue attending Ellender sporting events.
"They'll see me around," Joseph said. "I'm still going to be standing on the sidelines on Friday night football games. I can't miss out on it because I just love Ellender so much."