Wayne Reese, an icon in the world of New Orleans high school football for more than four decades, died Thursday due to complications from contracting coronavirus, McDonogh 35 assistant head coach Frank Daggs confirmed.
He was 74 years old.
Reese’s passing came just five months following him becoming just the 24th coach in Louisiana history to record 250 victories in a career.
“We knew how serious this was, but this is a New Orleans legend we’re talking about,” said Nick Saltaformaggio, who was hired away from Hahnville on Wednesday to become the Holy Cross football coach. “It’s incredibly sad.”
Before he spent 19 seasons coaching the Roneagles, Reese coached at Washington-Marion in Lake Charles, Carver and Booker T. Washington, where his son, Wayne Jr., currently coaches.
In his final season, McDonogh 35 won 10 consecutive games before falling in the Class 3A semifinals by a single point to Jennings on Dec. 6 and finishing 10-4.
Overall in 41 seasons as a head coach, he compiled a record of 255-187, and he was 117-86 in 19 seasons with the Roneagles.
When asked prior to the 2018 season how long he wanted to continue coaching, he said he wasn’t sure, and then reiterated that after winning his 249th game against Salmen on Oct. 17, saying it would mean more to his wife, Stella.
The week after, he gained No. 250, and remained humble, telling The Times-Picayune, “This was a big district win. … We’re just trying to get to the playoffs.”
One thing for sure is that Reese loved his family and his players more than he loved football. Said John Curtis coach JT Curtis on Thursday: “He always put the interests of the kids before anything else. He was always that way. I would label as a good man, and I don’t say that lightly. It brings home the tragedy of all this.”
In an extended interview in August 2018, Reese said, “All this is in the hands of God. I am blessed to have coached as long as I have coached and to have a little success, and truthfully, my wife is the key to everything. … It is special for me because my family is all around me.
“We have been blessed to have good kids and good kids who listen, kids who go to class, do well on their ACT and go to the next level.”
Reese coached countless players who went on to succeed in college and beyond, including NFL Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, who played at Carver in the late 1980s through 1990.
“We have lost not only an outstanding coach but an outstanding citizen, friend and mentor,” Curtis said. “Men like him don’t come around very often. He was a unique man … he went above and beyond the call of duty, and we will miss him obviously in all phases, especially in our community.
“He was the same guy yesterday, today and tomorrow. What you saw was what you got; there were no pretenses. If he was your friend, he was your friend for life.”