Landing prep basketball coaching star Gary Duhe a few years ago ranked as a major coup for Live Oak as the school continues to evolve as one of the top all-around schools in the state. Now that promising marriage is over as The Great Flood of 2016 continues to take its toll on Livingston Parish.
Duhe's teaching position in the physical education department is one of the 40-plus jobs throughout Livingston Parish that is likely being eliminated as the various school districts adjust to the loss of an estimated 600-1,000 students in the aftermath of the flood -- an estimated 100 at Live Oak.
Live Oak principal Beth Jones confirmed the unavoidable staffing move.
"We want to thank Gary Duhe for the two years of service that he provided Live Oak High School," she said via an e-mailed statement. "He moved our program forward. We wish Coach Duhe the best of luck with his future. We are very happy to announce John Capps as our new head coach at Live Oak High School. We feel that he has the skills and passion to continue moving our program in the right direction. He has a great relationship with our students and can help them develop the skills they need to be successful."
Livingston Parish School Board Supt. Rick Wentzel recently said that the district’s enrollment topped 26,000 when the 2016-17 school year began, but by February had shrunk to 25,295.
Duhe, the only basketball coach in state history to take four different teams to the Top 28 (Final 4), said he understood how and why the current process cost him the job and doesn’t harbor any ill will.
“Back at the beginning of April, Beth came and talked to me after she got back from a school board meeting and laid it out for me,” Duhe said Friday.
“She told me that we were overstaffed by four teachers in PE. When I was hired, they created an extra position, so I knew we were overstaffed. I was the last one hired with the most seniority as a teacher, so I understand the reasoning.”
Not that the 62-year-old Duhe isn’t disappointed.
In two seasons at Live Oak, the three-time state champion coach helped reconstruct the Eagles with a 15-16 record in 2015-16 and 16-17 this last season. Live Oak ended a 33-game District 4-5A losing streak with a 49-42 victory at Central in the final regular-season game on Feb. 17, which helped yield the program’s first playoff berth since 1996.
The Eagles featured seven seniors last season, but a core group of underclassmen is projected back, headed up by All-Livingston Parish guard Ralph Davenport, twins Bryan and Vince Bayonne – all sophomores – and freshman point guard DaDa Capling.
“It hurts because we have made a lot of progress the last few years and we have a talented group of players who are ready and talented enough to move the program forward,” Duhe said.
Duhe has spent most of the last 40 years as a teacher and coach, with stops at his high school alma mater, Redemptorist, Trafton Academy (now Dunham), Bishop Sullivan (now St. Michael), Plaquemine and then at Class 5A programs Central (8 years) and St. Amant (13 years).
There were also stints at LSU as an assistant on Dale Brown’s staff and a two-year tenure with the Louisiana High School Coaches Association after Duhe retired from the Louisiana Public School System.
A common thread throughout Duhe's basketball career: Success. Besides guiding Redemptorist to a pair of state crowns and Trafton to another in 1987, Duhe’s teams made the playoffs 29 times.
Along the way, the Baton Rouge native encountered another challenge.
A much bigger challenge.
During the 2010-11 school year, Duhe felt a bump on his chin when he was shaving and went to a doctor. He was diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer which began a difficult journey and aggressive battle that he has managed to win. He still has annual checkups, but said “My health is good. I’m almost back to my playing weight.”
And not done, despite the recent turn of events.
“I’m not finished coaching,” he said. “As long as the good Lord blesses me with good health, that’s why on I’m on Earth -- to coach basketball and influence young kids’ lives. He put me at Live Oak for a reason and I have enjoyed my time here. Now it’s just time for the next chapter.”
In April when Wentzel spoke at the annual Chamber of Commerce State of Education/Scholarship Breakfast, he called the cuts to the teacher numbers a “financial thing” and that it wasn’t feasible to wait until the last minute to budget for the 2017-18 school year.
The hope, Wentzel said, was that the necessary teacher reduction would be “handled by attrition, by retirement, resignations.” But when the 40-plus cuts still needed to be made, Duhe was one of the unlucky ones.
“We are very excited about John Capps taking over the basketball program and we feel like he is ready,” LOHS athletic director Brett Beard said.