A coaching legend
Louisiana High School Hall of Fame coach Dutton Wall (right) poses with former Ville Platte head coach Roy Serie and former Indianapolis Colt head coach Tony Dungy (middle) as they receive an award for the Tee-Cotton Bowl. Wall has close to 50 years of coaching experience. (Photo courtesy of Tim Fontenot)
When you take in the Louisiana high school scene over the past 60 years, many famous names pop up in the coaching ranks.
But, when it comes to other intangibles besides just wins, one name stands above all the others. That name is Marion Dutton Wall.
Wall not only has the credentials to be considered one of the greatest high school coaches to ever live, but to anyone who knows him there is more to him than just the wins.
Ask all who have been fortunate to be graced by meeting Coach Wall and they will tell you that he is a man of integrity, honesty, compassion and a undeniable work ethic. In short, he is not only a coaching legend, but a legend to humanity.
Wall’s work ethic began as a youngster in Amite, Louisiana. Wall was born in Spring Creek, a community about five miles east of Kentwood, but moved to Amite when he was just two years old.
His father worked for the police jury as a secretary/treasurer and a road superintendant, while his mother stayed home to take care of the family. During his freshman year, Wall and his family took in his grandfather and bought some land south of Amite.
It was there that the Wall family began to raise cows and pigs. According to Wall, he learned how to work hard by doing the chores on the farm.
“I was a cow milker,” stated Wall. “Also, my uncle in Baton Rouge would bring us the left over food from Istrouma High and some unleavened bread so that we could raise pigs. Farming is tough work and it taught me a lot about how to work. It also taught me that I did not want to be a farmer for a living,” he finished with a chuckle.
Even though his dad was a very strict person, he did allow Wall and his sister to participate in sports during their school years.
“My dad was not into sports,” said Wall. “He had one leg shorter than the other because of cifosis. But, he did not stop me or my sister from participating in sports.”
When Wall was in the seventh grade, he began playing football. Wall played through his eighth grade year, but did not go out his freshman season.
“When it came time for my freshman year, my mom would not let me play football,” commented Wall. “She thought I was too small and I would get seriously hurt. For her, being raised in the country, it was a game that was just good for breaking bones.”
However, Wall was able to back up with the team his sophomore season. During that year, Wall got to play in two games. It was those two games that “wet his mouth” on the game he would come to coach for close to 50 years.
Wall’s junior year, Amite went undefeated for the first time in the history of the school. The defensive back helped lead Amite to the Class A playoffs. A 7-0 first round loss to Redemptorist of Baton Rouge ended the season for Wall and Amite.
In his senior year, Amite was once again back in the playoffs, but found themselves on the losing end once again in a 7-0 defeat.
“We were pretty good,” stated Wall. “Back then only eight teams made the playoffs. But, we always had to play the teams from District 8 and they always had some really good teams.”
Besides playing football, Wall also played basketball and ran track. He would have played baseball, however, Amite did not get a high school team until after Wall had graduated in 1957.
Still, Wall did get his chance to be a part of the Amite baseball scene, coaching PONY league in the summer while he was attending college.
After graduation, Wall was off to participate in the world of high education. Wall really wanted to attend the University of Mississippi, but had to settle on Southeastern Louisiana because of his family’s financial situation.
“We were not the richest family,” said Wall, “I got a piece of a legislative scholarship through my dad and it paid $15 toward my tuition. In those days, it cost about $25 or $30 to get into school, so anything we could get helped us out. The first year I went, I commuted from Amite with a group of friends.”
“My second year, while taking a football course, I was asked why I didn’t play football. I told him I was too small,” he continued. “When we started the basketball class, the coach called me after class and asked me if I would like to be the basketball manager. They were going to pay my meals and give me a place to live. But, I wasn’t interested in being a manager.”
When Wall went back home, he told his mom about the offer. The next day she asked him to take the job because it would help them out financially. So, Wall became the basketball manager for Southeastern.
As the manager, Wall was also given the job of trainer, learning all the skills involved, including taping and managing injuries. He continued that job for the next three years.
After his four years at Southeastern, Wall was still one class short of graduation. So, he went back home and decided that his best option was to join the Marines. But, Wall never got the chance to be a part of the military.
“It was a Thursday when I went to the recruiting station, but it was closed,” commented Wall. “So, I went back to the house and I guess my mom and dad found out. They did not really want me to join, so they called an uncle in Jefferson Parish who got me an interview with a school board member. They hired me in January at Kenner Junior High and I taught until May.”
Wall went back to Southeastern in the summer and completed his degree. That led to his first high school job at Ville Platte High School in 1962. There he joined one of his former coaches, Tony Misita. Wall was an assistant football coach and the head baseball coach and taught physical education.
Wall spent the next four seasons with the Bulldogs before moving on to Welsh. After just one season, Wall moved back to Ville Platte thinking that he would be the next head coach of the Bulldogs. However, Max Hamlin decided to stay on as the head coach. Still, Wall stayed as an assistant for the next three seasons. However, with the opening of the Evangeline Academy, the Ville Platte High player pool dried up to the point where in Wall’s third year, the Bulldogs only played three games.
Wall proceeded to go on several interviews for other jobs knowing that football at Ville Platte would not return to glory for a while. During that time he was persuaded to return to school at Ole Miss to pursue his master’s degree by some good friends, including Bill Feaster, Dickie Miller and Larry Broussard.
“At first I did not want to go back to college because I hated it so much,” stated Wall. “I had 11 F’s in college. When I got to Ole Miss, we go to register, the advisor told me that I had to get 12 hours before they would admit me. That meant it would take me four summers to get my master’s. The funny thing is after we had all registered, they made a mistake and registered me as a regular student instead of a probationary student. So, instead of four summers, it only took me two. They still don’t know today that I got by with not having to go on probation. Thank you Ole Miss!” Wall laughed.
With his degree in hand, Wall went on to coach at Lutcher High. While there, Wall’s confidence in himself as a coach began to grow. From there, Wall received a call from a former roommate at Southeastern who had just became the principal at Port Sulphur. Wall was offered the head coaching job and took it immediately. During that time at Port Sulphur, Wall made his first trip to the state championship, falling to Ascension Catholic.
“I went down to Port Sulphur to talk to my old buddy and on the way, my wife Karen (formerly Soileau), asked me ‘Where the hell are you taking me’. But, I found a gold mine there. Those kids loved us and what we were doing. It was a great time. I wish I could have stayed there forever. But, we could not build a house because of the threat of hurricanes.”
After his stint at Port Sulphur, Wall traveled back to Welsh to take over as the head coach. During his 27 years coaching the Greyhounds, Wall and his team made the trek to the state championship twice at the Superdome in New Orleans. Unfortunately, Welsh fell both times.
While at Welsh, Wall was also a successful track coach and even took the girl’s basketball team to the Sweet 16.
Wall retired after 40 years in the public schools, but his coaching career did not end there. Sacred Heart head coach Keith Menard came calling and hired Wall on as the defensive coordinator. When Menard left to take the Central High job, Wall was tabbed to take over as the head coach.
“Being an assistant coach at Sacred Heart was a nice job, especially since I did not have the responsibility of teaching,” said Wall. “I would go fishing or whatever and then show up for practice. But, after Keith (Menard) left, I felt it was a good place to be.”
Wall stayed at Sacred Heart until the 2006 football season. A disagreement with the administration forced Wall to make a decision to stay on or to move on to other things. Wall decided not to come back the next year.
Wall was inducted into the LHSAA Hall of Fame in 2014. In his career His teams amassed an overall record of 247 wins, 160 losses and two ties, which includes 14 district championships and three state runner-ups. Wall, a three-time Coach of the Year, was also a successful track and field coach, garnering 11 district championships and one state runner-up title in 1994.
Wall’s passion for the game has not died, even though he is not actively involved in coaching the sport he so loves. That passion has been passed on to his son, Jeptha. The younger Wall is currently the head coach at Crowley High School.
“I was so proud when Jeptha decided to pursue coaching as a profession,” commented Wall. “He is a really good coach not only in football but on the track. He does a tremendous job with the kids. I can see myself in him, but he is better. He acts more experienced at this time in his career than I have. I don’t tell him anything about coaching, but I can see he is doing the right thing at Crowley. He really lets his coaches coach.”
When asked if he had any regrets in his coaching career, Wall had to pause to ponder the question.
“I guess the only regret I have is not to take things as serious,” stated Wall. “I would get so worked up over games, it was crazy. Other than that, I have no regrets. I loved the coaches that I worked with. I loved the kids I have coached. The most rewarding thing about being a coach is the admiration you get from the kids and the community, the respect that you get and the relationship you have with the children. Sometimes I feel selfish for all the time I spent, but it was doing something I love.”
One just has to sit down and listen to Wall to understand the amount of love he has for the game of football.
And those stories. Oh, those stories. Every story told comes with a large dose of his infectious humor. Knowing Coach Wall is like being able to see into a history book of high school athletics. So, if you get the chance, do not miss the opportunity to sit down and just chew the fat with a legend.