End of an era: Jess Curtis departing Many Tigers football program

CHIEFS LAND BIG WINNER:  After posting an 87 percent winning rate in 13 seasons, Many High’s Jess Curtis is leaving his alma mater to take the Natchitoches Central football coaching post.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

In the past decade, Many High School’s football program has been one of Louisiana’s very best, guided by dynamic head coach and alumnus Jess Curtis.

That partnership came to an end today.

Curtis, who has led Many High School to three small school state championships in the last nine seasons and three more state runner-up finishes, is taking over as the Natchitoches Central football coach.

His hiring by NCHS was confirmed by the school in a mid-afternoon social media announcement today following a Many High football team meeting.

Very few prep football coaches in the state have a resume’ as impressive as Curtis does.

He has built one of the state’s powerhouse programs at any level. His unbeaten Division III Non-Select state champions this fall dominated one of NCHS’s District 1-5A colleagues, Haughton, 35-3, in September, and in recent years the program has thrashed bigger schools such as North DeSoto and DeRidder.

The Tigers have won 10 straight district championships and are unbeaten in district play during that time, reaching the state playoffs every year and advancing at least to the state semifinals in all but one season.

Since taking over at his alma mater in 2010, after serving as defensive coordinator there, Curtis posted a 163-24 (.871) record in 13 years and made the playoffs every season.

While Many was modestly successful when Curtis was named head coach, the Tigers hadn’t begun to approach the remarkable level of achievement they have since. Case in point: Curtis’ 2010 Many team was the No. 32 seed in a 32-team playoff bracket. That status skyrocketed in subsequent years.

Many reached the Class 2A state finals for the first time under Curtis in 2013, then won its first state championship the following season. The Tigers reached the playoff semifinals in 2016, 2017 and 2018, then lost in the 2019 state finals. They came back to win the 2020 2A championship, fell in the 2021 finals and beat Class 3A Union Parish last month to capture the Division III Non-Select state crown.

The Tigers are known for their physical style of play, aggressive defense and powerful running game. Curtis is a proponent of an immersive offseason strength and conditioning program, and has a large roster approaching 100 players, highly unusual at a Class 2A school. The Many powerlifting program has produced state champion lifters.

Also regarded as an exceptional history teacher, Curtis is the son of retired Sabine Parish businessman John T. Curtis. The coach’s nephew, Tackett Curtis, has been one of the nation’s top recruits in the Class of 2023 and recently signed with USC.

Tackett Curtis, the state Gatorade Player of the Year and the Class 2A Defensive MVP for a second straight season, is the latest in a string of Many players who have earned college scholarships.

The new NCHS coach is a Many native and played for the Tigers’ 1988 state finalist team.

He was offered an assistant coaching post when Brad Laird took over the Northwestern State program in 2018. A year later Curtis reportedly could not reach agreement with the prior NCHS administration and then-school board leaders to take the NCHS job. Natchitoches Parish superintendent of schools Eloi and NCHS principal Micah Coleman were not in place then.

The school has just finished building a new athletic fieldhouse adjacent to the current football practice field, and has erected a grandstand and press box. There are plans to develop the facility into a home field, in lieu of playing home games at NSU’s Turpin Stadium, as has been done for decades.

Curtis takes over a program previously steered by former Byrd High School assistant James Wilkerson, who was released last month following a 3-7 season. Wilkerson guided the Chiefs to their best year this century in 2021, a 7-4 playoff run, including a 7-0 start until quarterback Brian Young was injured. Young was hurt again and missed the first half of the 2022 season.

That 2021 season produced the Chiefs’ first winning record since 2012. NCHS has not had sustained success in football since the mid-1990s. Now the Chiefs are hiring a proven winner to transform their program.

The foundation of the Many program is rock-solid, and the Tigers return a talented squad to defend their latest state championship. Now the question is who will step in as head coach and athletic director to lead the charge.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE