From Business Grad to Hall of Fame Coach: The Unexpected Journey of Jay Roth

by MIKE STROM // Contributor

From Catholic League legend to LHSAA immortal.

Little did Jay Roth know what the future had planned for him as a freshly-minted Business graduate from Nicholls State University in the mid-80s.

Football, despite being a passion, was located somewhere near the back of the line. Then life, or maybe fate, intervened.

“I couldn’t find a job,’’ Roth, the most successful football coach in the history of Rummel High School, said. “I graduated in business in 1985-86 and there was an oil bust. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My dad told me, do not go into coaching, do not take education classes because you’re not going to coach. So I didn’t. I took business.

“So I graduated. I go home without a job. While I’m looking, I became a permanent substitute teacher at East Jefferson (High School), just a permanent sub. Then (former EJ coach) Bill Chimento sees me in the hall and says, ‘Heh, didn’t you play?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ So he tells me why don’t you come out and help us with spring. So I helped with spring. I went through a season with him. I got hooked.’’

By the following season, Roth had joined his father Easton as an assistant coach on Van Lambert’s East Ascension football staff in Gonzales. Roth was living the dream, briefly, until the staff was fired. Then the real soul-searching began.

“I’ve been coaching for two and a half years, I’ve been fired and I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t be in this. But I’m going to try,’’ said Roth, a three-year starter at quarterback at Rummel, first under Coach Don Perret and then for two seasons under his father Easton. “I’m going to go coach with the best and if I can’t get a job with the two best coaches I know, I’m going to get out.

“I wrote a letter to Bobby Conlin (of Brother Martin) and Hank Tierney (of Shaw). I didn’t know them. Hank responded to me and hired me. (He) was my mentor. Then I really learned how to coach football. That’s when I learned how to coach football and learned how to work. Working with (Tierney) and all of the guys we had on that staff.

“Hank taught you how to prepare and how to practice. It was tremendous, absolutely tremendous because I knew then that I could coach. Once you work with (Tierney) and you have success with him and see what he did and you follow his blueprint . . .  there have been a lot of people succeed from his (coaching) tree.’’

None that have matched Roth’s exploits, however.

Six years after joining Tierney and subsequently moving up the prep coaching ranks as an offensive coordinator at Jesuit, Roth landed the head coaching position at his alma mater where he built the Raiders into one of the state’s elite programs.

The relationship proved mutually beneficial as Roth served 24 years as head coach, won 228 games and directed the Raiders to state championships in 2012 and 2013 in addition to making  appearances in the state finals in 2009 and 2015, not to mention state playoff appearances in 23 of 24 seasons.

Now retired as coach and serving as Rummel’s athletic director, Roth is one of the 10 featured enshrines in the 2024 Louisiana High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame that will be inducted formally at 6 p.m. Tuesday in ceremonies at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge.

Roth, 60, is the second Rummel Raider so honored, joining the late Jim Robarts, the school’s legendary basketball coach, a two-time state champion and a 1994 inductee.

The LHSAA’s other nine Hall of Fame enshrines are Dr. James Andrews, competitor; Eddie Cole, coach; Gay Greer, coach; Margaret “Maggie’’ Millet, coach; Ryan Perrilloux, competitor; Scott Peterson, competitor; James Ravannack, coach/contributor; Mitchell Riggs, coach; and Ryan Travis, competitor.

“It’s a great honor,’’ Roth said. “It’s a great honor that somebody thought enough to even nominate me and then to be selected by the LHSAA was a great honor. To be somewhere throughout your whole head coaching career, to be at one school for 25 years, you coach at one school. There was not much turnover in coaches. We had great players, great administration.

“And you’re coaching high school football in the city of New Orleans where high school football is as important as college and pros. Where else can you go where high school football gets the front page of a Sunday morning or Saturday morning paper? What other big cities cover high school like that?

“And then there’s the competitiveness of the Catholic League. It was just pretty cool to be part of it for that many years. I can’t believe it was 25 years. I can’t believe it went by that fast. But when you’re working seven days a week almost year round, I can see it. It almost flew by.’’

In addition to the 2012 and 2013 state championships, Rummel won an unparalleled 12 Catholic League championships in football in 24 seasons under Roth’s direction. His won-loss record of 228-62 is more than triple the victories of Rummel’s nearest head football coach. Forty-two of Roth’s victories at Rummel came in the playoffs.

Seven of his teams finished the regular season undefeated, including the 2012 team whose 14-0 overall record and 35-21 defeat of Barbe in the Class 5A state championship game represent high water marks for the program. Rummel’s Class 5A state crown in 2012 also was the last in the LHSAA before the association split into Select and Non-Select divisions for the playoffs.

“I will say this and this might be a little cocky, but we’re still the defending (Class) 5A state champs,’’ said Roth, who has been a vocal and passionate opponent of the LHSAA split. “Two Thousand Twelve was the last true state championship for 5A football. So until they put it back together, we don’t defend our title.

“We’re defending state champs because we went through the gauntlet. Like everybody did before that. Sixty-Four teams (started) in 5A, 32 in the playoffs and you have to play five rounds to get there. So that made 2012 different.’’

Roth retired as head coach after the 2018 season and handed the reins of what proved to be Rummel’s third state championship team, the Select Division I state champions in 2019, to his hand-picked successor, defensive coordinator Nick Monica.

“I was never a fan of (the LHSAA split),’’ Roth said. “I didn’t think it was right. I thought the year in 2012 when I think four private schools were in the championship games. Here we get there for the first time in 50 years and people start griping because it’s four private schools. But Ouachita, Neville, Ruston and West Monroe owned the Dome for 20 years Nobody complained. I just said, ‘We’ve got to get better.’

“I watched those schools play year in and year out, come to the Dome with their big crowds. We get there. West Monroe spanks us by 30 (31-0 in 2009). I just said, ‘We’ve got to get better.’ I didn’t look for ways to kick people out of leagues and start a new association. Then we get there for the first time in 50 years and there’s a vote to split. Everybody just thinks that the private schools are (cheating). Which it was not true.

“(John) Curtis was the big thing. (Critics were saying) Curtis wasn’t doing it right. Curtis was unfair. Curtis was winning. The state kept moving Curtis here and there. Well, finally (the LHSAA) put them in the Catholic League. So, all right, come into the Catholic League. Keep us all together. Curtis has been a great addition to the Catholic League. They’re fine to work with. Everything has been good. But people aren’t satisfied with that. They still wanted more.

“That played a big role for me,’’ Roth said of the decision to retire, “because to me I still think it’s too many (football) championships. The competition is watered down. I used to like going through 32 (teams in playoffs).

“What motivated me more than anything was in 2010 when we sat home and didn’t make the playoffs. I sat (in my office) on a Friday in week 11 and my team wasn’t in the playoffs and it literally brought tears to my eyes. It was the first time and only time. I knew I needed to work.

“We’re coming off a state championship (appearance versus West Monroe) and we don’t make the playoffs. Shame on us. That was terrible and I felt it. We didn’t deserve to go. But now, even if you don’t deserve to go, you go. If you want to get better, sit home. If you’re truly a competitor, look at your program and re-evaluate everything.’’

When asked about his proudest achievements, Catholic League and state championships are not mentioned. As for regrets, he said he would like to have coached his son Craig, who moved up to the Raiders varsity as a freshman tight end/deep snapper, in 2019, one season after his father’s retirement.

“I take pride in that I enjoyed coming to work every day, with the guys I worked with,’’ Roth said. “You’ve got to realize that I was spending more time with them than I was with my family and son. Coming in on Sundays, working seven days a week, working to play on Saturdays, you really had to enjoy who you worked with and we did.

“I let my coaches coach. I was proud to say that. I never questioned what they were doing. I trusted them. That’s why I hired them. I had some real good coaching staffs, assistant coaches who treated kids right. Then I had good players. It takes players. It’s a proven fact, you can be a good coach, but you better have some players.’’

With better players came higher goals. Beginning in 2009 with the Metairie school’s first appearance in the LHSAA Superdome Prep Classic, state championships were added to the annual list of preseason goals headed by Catholic League championship aspirations.

“(A state championship) was never a goal until we got there (to the Dome),’’ Roth said. “It was never a goal to win a state championship. Then in 2009 it happened. We got to the semifinals maybe two or three times before that and spit the bit. But once we got to the Dome, I remember telling the team in the locker room in 2009, this is a goal now. I said it to the team. I said it to the coaches. This is a goal now. It really became a goal then.’’

Roth realized the end had arrived after walking off the field following a 13-10 loss to Catholic of Baton Rouge in the 2018 Division I Select state semifinals.

“I was done,’’ Roth said. “The losses were hurting a lot more than the wins I would enjoy. The losses were hurting a lot more. I wasn’t enjoying the wins. We used to have fun when we’d come back (after the games). For the last three years I’m coming back and I’m worried about tomorrow already. I’m worried about next week already.

“I didn’t like losing. I never did like losing. It just hurt more later in life. I knew it was after the Catholic High game. I never looked back. I don’t miss it. I never thought about any other job.’’

And never, repeat never, did Roth imagine the heights to which Rummel football would rise on his watch.

“No, no, no, no, no,’’ Roth said. “I couldn’t imagine 24 years. I had no idea what the future held. I didn’t know if I would succeed or if I would fall on my face. I did not know. I didn’t know if I’d be an average coach, be a 5-5 or 6-4 guy my whole career.

“But the goals were and it’s always been a goal to me, to be a Catholic League champion. It took a while, but that was the goal. Never a state championship. And we never called it a district championship. The goal in football was to be a Catholic League champion.’’