Football Coach, 1960-92
Jack Salter was born to be a football coach.
He made no bones about what he thought on the subject when he angrily told the new principal at St. Paul’s School so.
Salter was a young assistant coach at St. Paul’s in 1962 when he was across the lake in New Orleans in the spring of 1962. He picked up the afternoon newspaper, when a brief item caught his eye. It read that St. Paul’s football coach Mike Balen and his assistant had been relieved.
“That was me!” Salter recalled. “I was the assistant, and I was reading about my firing in the paper.”
Salter jumped in his car, made the trip back across the lake, and strode into the principal’s office and threw the paper on the desk. The explanation to Salter, who had been a Hall of Fame athlete at St. Paul’s just a few years before, was that he could still coach basketball and teach.
That’s when he announced forcefully, “I was born to be a football coach, and I will be someplace,” and marched out.
A friend tipped Salter off that Hubie Gallagher, the noted coach at Covington High, was looking for an aide. This was history in the making.
Gallagher hired Salter, and a year later told his one assistant that he wanted to retire and that he would like Salter to replace him.
After a rocky start, Salter went on to become the most successful football coach in St. Tammany Parish history, forging a 256-110-8 record (a 70 percent victory rate over 33 years, despite the slow start), his teams winning 15 district titles, making four appearances in the state championship game and winning the 1976 state crown. At least 75 of the players Salter mentored received college scholarships.
The regard in which he is held in the Northshore town where he was raised and coached is emblazoned on the Covington High football arena: Jack Salter Stadium.
“I kind of just took to it,” Salter, 81, says looking back on his career, “Everything was perfect. We were in a perfect spot, where the parents looked after and cared about what their kids were doing, we had players that were committed. We were where the game meant something. It was a perfect situation.”
“With Coach Salter, it was all about the kids,” said his longtime assistant Allie Smith. “His relationships with the players was tremendous. He treated them sternly when he had to, but with a guiding hand. He could motivate them. They were fortunate to play under Coach Salter, and we were fortunate to coach such good kids.”
Darryl Graham, the Lions’ quarterback in the state championship season of 1976 and ultimately also Covington’s head coach and now the school’s athletic director, agreed with Smith’s assessment, saying that Salter was the model of consistency, as a coach, as a teacher, and as a man. “He would do anything for his kids,” Graham said. “I saw it many times. He really was a disciplinarian, but he was fair. I think that was part of his success. Players would give a little more than they thought they could for Coach Salter.”
Story by Marty Mulé of the Greater New Orleans Sports Selection Committee, July, 2012.