Tim Walters finally gets break at Ponchatoula High to become head coach for first time in career

by: William Weathers // GeauxPreps Contributor

Legendary football coach Hank Tierney had moved away from Archbishop Shaw, the scene of some of his greatest coaching moments, to become the coach at West Jefferson for six years and then Ponchatoula.

When Tierney took over the Green Wave in 2011 and was in the process of putting together a coaching staff, he got a call about one of his former players looking for a coaching job.

Tim Walters was a former offensive guard on some of Shaw’s more prolific teams under Tierney during the 1990s. He graduated from Nicholls State when he launched a 23-year coaching career as an assistant coach at Fisher for eight years and followed by a year at Destrehan.      

Walters was seeking employment when he moved to the Northshore where Tierney was going into his first season at Ponchatoula in Tangipahoa Parish.

“I really didn’t lose track of him; I just hadn’t heard his name in a while,” Tierney said of Walters. “I knew he was coaching and when I heard he wanted a job, I hired him to be our linebacker’s coach.

“When he played offensive line for us at Shaw, he was a tough, quiet kid,” Tierney said. “He did his job well. A guy you loved to coach, never complained and just went to work every day.”

Walters hasn’t left Ponchatoula since, remaining with the Green Wave who reached the 2021 Class 5A state championship game. He was the program’s defensive coordinator since 2014 and with the departure of head coach Trey Willie, was promoted in May to become head coach of the Green Wave.

“I felt it was in the best interest of the kids that I step up and provide some stability,” Walters said after his team took part in the Robert Graves Metro Baton Rouge 7-on-7 Summer Passing League. “This group of seniors, this is their third head coach they’ve had. At least they’re familiar with everything. It’s not totally different.”

Having played for and coached under Tierney, Walters believed he had the type of mentor he could emulate.

When Walters shared his offseason program and summer workouts with the team, it had the organizational fingerprints of Tierney who was a stickler for details.

“I had always told myself if I felt good about the opportunity, right place and right time, I would consider being a head coach,” Walters said. “It wasn’t anything that was a big deal to me needing to be the head coach. I felt like this was the right opportunity for me.”

Tierney knows Ponchatoula got the right guy for the job.

“When Trey left unexpectedly, it was understood that Timmy would be the coach,” he said. “I called the principal and said Timmy’s the guy. You don’t need to look any further and he will get the job done.

“Everything you want in a coach, he’s got,” he said. “He’s been a very well-kept secret for a long time. Everybody’s happy and Ponchatoula’s got a great coach, a really good person that’s going to put in a lot of time. I’m really happy for him. He waited his turn and got his opportunity. That’s what Hank Tierney did. That’s how it happens.”

It was in Walters’ first season as defensive coordinator when Ponchatoula’s program came to life under Tierney. The Green Wave, led by quarterback Christian Campbell, were a No. 2 seed in the Class 5A playoffs and lost the services of Campbell in the second half of a 38-28 loss to Acadiana which went on to win the state title that season.

“That was our best team at Ponchatoula, even the 2020 team that went to the finals,” said Tierney, who retired after the 2021 season and has since returned to coach at Shaw. “Timmy’s incredibly efficient and organized. Always had everything ready.

“I’m a nut for organization and he always had his stuff organized and ready to roll,” Tierney said. “He’s a quiet, fiery guy who will get after kids, but is very respected. He deserves a lot of credit for those good teams we had at Ponchatoula. We had a lot of great players, and we played great defense.”

Ponchatoula became a program with annual credibility noted for deep playoff runs with elite-level players such as quarterback T.J. Finley (now of Western Kentucky), running back Tajae Spears (now of the Tennessee Titans) and defensive back Jacoby Matthews (formerly of Texas A&M).

The Green Wave reached the Class 5A state title game in ’21, falling 28-20 to Zachary, which was Tierney’s final game at the school.

He was replaced by offensive coordinator Trey Willie, a former quarterback at Southeastern Louisiana.

“We’re a large school and we’re growing,” Walters said. “We get a lot of support from our community. We have the type of capability (to be annual an playoff program). We can do it. We can be there.”

Ponchatoula went into the spring without knowledge of who its head coach would be.

Walters and the remaining coaches on staff didn’t miss a beat, keeping the team afloat with the normal structure of weightlifting and conditioning during the offseason. That was followed by spring where four days after the team’s spring game, Walters was promoted to head coach.

“We into spring and told the players we don’t have a head coach now,” Walters said. “All of the coaches were out there. We practiced just like we always did, and we didn’t know who the head coach would be until it happened. The kids showed up and worked hard.”

Walters polished up his resume’ and presented his vision to an interview committee who would make their recommendation for approval by Tangipahoa Parish Superintendent Melissa Stilley.

“I presented my plan for the program and how I would do things,” Walters said. “They asked, ‘how would you handle the different situations?’ Not all of them were easy. As a head coach, sometimes you’ve got to make tough decisions that not everybody’s going to be happy about.”

Walters is realistic about his first team at Ponchatoula. The Green Wave finished with three straight losses, including 34-28 to Chalmette in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs, to finish 5-6 overall.

One of the common denominators in an uneven season for the Green Wave was a stretch of five losses that were each determined by 10 points or less.

“It seemed like we were on the short end of that stick more than you would think would happen by chance,” Walters said. “That’s kind of why we’re trying to get our guys to understand that you can’t worry about things you don’t have control over. Just control your part, regardless of the situation or score, whatever externally is going on around you. Just focus on your job.”

Walters said this year’s team is putting the pieces together to remake an entire offensive line from last season. The Green Wave are also looking to replace two college-bound outside linebackers and three-fourths of their secondary.

“We have a lot of seniors with a lot of inexperience,” he said.

Another big piece Walters is looking to fill is this year’s starting quarterback where senior Bishop Davis passed for 1,158 yards and 15 TDs a year ago.

Senior Brayden Perrin, whose previous experience includes serving as the team’s freshman and JV quarterback, will transition from slot receiver in ’23 to quarterback and run offensive coordinator Colby McDonald’s offense.

The Green Wave will feature a running back-by-committee approach led by junior Jace Jackson (168-691, 10 TDs), senior Andrew Cangelosi (80-335, 2 TDs) and seniors Cory Jackson and Tyler Galladora.

Walters will continue to serve as defensive coordinator for a unit that allowed 16.5 points a game, limiting opponents to fewer than 20 points five times.

Ponchatoula, which will be a select school in this year’s Division I playoffs, will scrimmage Archbishop Rummel at Joe Yenni Stadium and face host Loranger in the Loranger Jamboree.

“It is a special thing,” Walters said of becoming a head coach for the first time. “A lot of people have known me for a long time and said, ‘well it’s about time’.  I guess it’s now or never for me. I’m getting older.”

One of the biggest areas Walters has taken away from Tierney is the daily impact he’s had on his players, a trait he hopes to mimic. 

“You have to be your own self,” Walters said. “There’s only one Hank Tierney, so I don’t think I act like him at all. I think I do think like him in a lot of ways, and that’s just from spending so much time with him.

“The biggest thing you get from working for coach for so long as I did, you really see how to deal with kids,” Walters said. “He was really the best at that. Teen-age kids are not always easy to deal with, but I can’t image anyone being better at that than him.”