Willie Ragan, who started the football programs at St. Frederick and Wossman prior to becoming the offensive coordinator for ULM's 1987 national championship team, is still going strong.
When Willie Ragan approached Jason Thompson about a possible coaching position on the Sterlington football staff, the Panthers' first-year head coach never hesitated.
Ragan, who will join Boyd Cole as the Panthers' offensive line coach, brings a wealth of experience to the staff. To be exact, Ragan is entering his 50th season in the coaching profession.
“Coach Ragan has a lot of knowledge to draw from,” Thompson said. “We're certainly glad to have him here. The kids have enjoyed him. It's been a good fit for him personally as well as for the Sterlington football program.”
Ragan and Thompson previously worked together at Ouachita when Ragan was the head coach. This time, the roles are reversed.
“We worked together on the defensive side of the ball before he was named head coach,” Thompson said. “I was able to work with coach Ragan when he as an assistant coach and later when he was head coach.”
Although Ragan has spent the majority of his coaching career at the high school level, he is probably best known for his work as offensive coordinator of Northeast Louisiana University's 1987 Division I-AA national championship team. He was a member of coach Pat Collins' staff from 1981-88.
Ragan began his coaching career at St. Frederick in 1964 when he accepted the task of starting the school's football program. A year later, he was named Wossman's first head football coach, a position he held until 1971. Returning to his alma mater, Ragan was part of coach Charlie Brown's staff at Neville from 1972-80.
After leaving ULM in 1988, Ragan was the head coach at Claiborne Christian, St. Frederick and Ouachita.
In 2005, Don Shows hired Ragan to coach West Monroe's freshmen defensive linemen. Ragan spent eight seasons with the Rebels, assisting with the varsity offensive linemen and scout team last season.
“I enjoyed coaching at West Monroe,” Ragan said. “It was a great experience. I learned a lot.”
Name an iconic coach in Ouachita Parish and chances are Ragan has coached with or against him.
“I've been fortunate to work for a lot of good coaches, like Charlie Brown at Neville and Pat Collins at ULM,” said Ragan, who played for the legendary Bill Ruple at Neville. “Don Shows runs a great program. (West Monroe interim head coach) Jerry Arledge is a great football coach. I worked last year with Glen Hunt, who does a great job with West Monroe's offensive line. I enjoyed working with all those people.”
Finding the five-minute drive to Sterlington High more appealing than the commute to West Monroe, Ragan looked up Thompson shortly after moving in the spring.
“Getting remarried and moving up here, it was a good move for me,” Ragan said. “I've worked with Jason before and think a lot of him. He runs a good program. He's very organized and enthusiastic. There are a lot of good things going on here. I've enjoyed being around these young coaches.”
While most of his contemporaries have long since retired, Ragan's desire to coach has never waned.
“I don't mind being old,” Ragan laughed when told that he had unseated Cole as the staff's elder statesman. “The kids keep you young.”
Ragan, who joined the team in time to help with summer workouts, likes what he has seen from the Panthers.
“They're good, hard-working kids,” said Ragan, who will coach the Panthers' kickers in addition to his duties with the O-linemen. “A lot of them could play 5A ball and fit right in. We have some that could start at West Monroe. The work ethic's the same. We have two or three here who are smarter than I am, for sure.”
Though convinced that the program is headed in the right direction, Ragan is concerned about the team's lack of depth at the moment. Nevertheless, he believes the problem is only temporary.
“We just don't have a lot of depth, right now,” Ragan said. “We need to get more kids out. They tell us it's coming. The middle school has a lot of kids out for football. We need to get more of the younger kids staying in the program.
“I think the kids are finding out that coach Thompson has it set up to where this is an enjoyable program to be in. It's well-organized and up-tempo with good coaches. The kids have certainly bought into it.”
Ragan's achievements aren't limited to his coaching career. He holds the distinction of being the only athlete in Neville's storied history to have played on state championship teams in football, basketball and baseball.
Ragan went on to play football at Northeast Louisiana State College, which later became NLU, then ULM. He was a running back, linebacker and placekicker during his college career.
“Back then, we played both ways,” Ragan recalled.
Though football has changed since he played in his last game for the NLCS Indians, Willie Ragan has never lost his passion for the sport.