It’s time to fully appreciate Coach Curtis and understand his departure  

It was time for a change. Time for a challenge.

That’s how Jess Curtis saw it. That’s why he’s no longer the Many High School football coach, instead introduced 12 days ago to be the savior of a downtrodden Natchitoches Central Chiefs’ program.

That’s not how nearly everybody else around Many and Sabine Parish saw it. They were shocked, stunned that their coach could up and leave behind his school, those players, and what he had created as the incredibly successful coach at his alma mater.

They did not like it, not one bit. The initial sting has faded for plenty of folks, but not all. There are those who  haven’t gotten over it. Some may never will.

It hurt. Deeply. Some, more than a few, feel betrayed. Jess Curtis, #ManyMade if ever somebody was, was bolting for greener pastures, and to make it worse, going from the penthouse to the outhouse.

Many might have its drawbacks being a small town  (I’d contend being a small town has more advantages), but nobody minded too much because the Many Tigers kept them incredibly proud game after game, year after year, stacking up victories at a rate very few football teams in state history could match. Many has not lost a district game in 10 years. Natchitoches Central hasn’t won a district championship this century.

Curtis is moving from a school he loved, to a school where he is a hired hand.

How could he do that to Many? To the kids? To the Tiger football program?

Stop right there.

It’s OK to be upset, disappointed, even a bit toasty for a day or three. But for your sake, for everybody’s sake, step back and look at it differently.

Listen, with an open mind, to his interview on last Friday’s Billy West Live podcast on the Sabine Parish Journal.

There’s not a negative syllable in what Jess Curtis has to say about Many, in the podcast or anywhere else. He has nothing but pride in his heart about what has happened all his life here in Sabine Parish, and especially in the past 13 seasons he’s been the top Tiger.

And he always will. So will you. We can agree on that.

It’s also not going to fall apart. The foundation is too strong, the culture is ingrained too deeply, and too many accomplished coaches are lining up hoping to take over as head coach.

Can you admit none of it could have happened without him? There had been good seasons, a handful of really good ones, maybe none better that magical 1988 team that played then-mighty Jonesboro-Hodge for the 2A title in the Superdome – with Jess Curtis in the starting lineup. But until he became the Tigers’ head coach, and instilled the #ManyMade culture over his first three seasons, there was hardly consistent goodness. There certainly wasn’t consistent greatness.

There’s been nothing less than that since. What has happened is nothing short of incredible. State finals for the first time in 2013, like Apollo 8, the first NASA flight to reach the moon, orbiting, but not landing. A year later, it was Many’s version of Apollo 11 – walking on the moon. “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” State champions, unbeaten.

Then Curtis and his Tigers made moon missions routine. Playoffs every year. Semifinals nearly every year. Six trips to the state finals – including each of the last four seasons – and three state titles. The list of accomplishments by Many football with Curtis on the sideline are as good as it gets. Recently, a state championship powerlifting team has sprung out as a byproduct of the Tigers’ deep commitment to strength training.

Many High School, and Many schools period, have been transformed. Elementary school kids dream of being Many Tigers and winning like they’ve watched the big boys do. Their parents certainly have those dreams. And for years now, they’ve come true.

The seniors on this past season’s unbeaten state champions were fourth graders when they watched the Tigers on their way to the Superdome in 2013. Every fourth-grade boy since has shared their experience – maybe not their level of success, yet, but the same experience – the unbridled ambition, daring to dream while knowing it was really, honestly within their reach, which is a wonderful life lesson.

Because Jess Curtis showed them. He dared them. He motivated them and nurtured them, and he and his coaches led them. It was not just something special, it has been something amazing.

So instead of being upset and frustrated, step back and be thankful. A local boy has become a Louisiana coaching legend, in his hometown, at his alma mater.

Now he’s taking a leap of faith, daring to dream, taking his shot to see if it was “right time, right place,” never to happen again any place else – or if the #ManyMade approach is bigger than that.

Neil Armstrong was a great Naval aviator, a respected test pilot. He could have continued doing that and had a very happy, successful career. He took a chance and became an astronaut – which carried great risk — then earned the chance to lead two spaceflights, the second one taking him to July 20, 1969, when he became the first man on the moon.

Not suggesting Jess Curtis is in that stratosphere, but in his chosen field, considering his skyrocketing success, he deserves the chance to shoot for the moon.

And he deserves admiration for all he’s done for the home team, and the hometown — not scorn for leaving it.

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