Sitting in his brand new office, which overlooks the legendary Bill Ruple Stadium from above, Jeff Tannehill apologized in advance for what was to come.
After news broke one night prior that Tannehill would be named the new head football coach of the school he graduated from in 1989, Neville’s newest coach wrote his thoughts on a sheet of paper in an attempt to express his gratitude.
“First, I want to say I have big shoes to fill, and I may get a little choked up when I read this,” said Tannehill, pulling out his note and beginning to read. “Coach (Mickey) McCarty continued the legacy that was started by Bill Ruple, Coach (Charlie) Brown, Coach (Joe) Coats and Coach (Sonny) Smith. It’s my job to continue those great things that were done in the past and to continue the great tradition here at Neville.”
Playing under Brown in the late ‘80s and coaching alongside McCarty for nearly 10 years at Neville High School helped shape Tannehill as both a man and a coach.
After McCarty made the leap to become the school’s new principal, one of the most prestigious jobs in the state of Louisiana opened up. McCarty felt the right guy to fill his shoes — a daunting task when you consider his 197-43 record at Neville with four state championships — was already on the staff.
“That connection he has to Neville played a big part,” McCarty said. “He was a Neville graduate, a Neville athlete and he has a proven record as a head coach in two different stints. Those things stood out to me. He’s a proven winner.”
Tannehill’s first head coaching stint took place at LaSalle High School two decades ago. He had an 0-10 football team fall in his lap as a 20-something year old coach looking to make his mark in 2000. Tannehill got to show what he was made of in the next few years as little by little LaSalle made improvements. In his first year on the job, LaSalle improved to 2-8. A 3-7 season followed before Tannehill’s group went 6-4 in his third season. And in his fourth year as the head coach, LaSalle went 10-0 in the regular season.
“Let’s just call it what it was, a learning experience,” Tannehill said.
After moving around the next couple of years, Tannehill settled into a nice gig at his alma mater, where he served as the head softball coach and assistant football coach. Over the next seven years, Tannehill worked with McCarty and delved deeper into both sides of the ball, splitting his seven-year run as both an offensive and defensive assistant. Over that time, Tannehill also got to reconnect with his old coach, the legendary Charlie Brown.
“It’s a weird thing,” Tannehill said. “Coach Brown, after he retired everybody thought he was the nicest, easiest going coach there ever was. As we played for him, we were deathly afraid and respected him very much. We thought he knew more football than anybody in the country, which he did most likely. I got to know him as an adult later on and the things he would tell you about coaching football always related to a lesson to be learned. It was just great to get to know him as an adult and not just a player. He meant a lot to me. The things he said and taught, it was amazing how much he cared about this place.”
Tannehill earned his stripes as a Tiger (again) before moving on to St. Frederick, where he spent the next five years of his coaching journey as the head football coach. Tannehill had immediate success with the Warriors, as he took St. Frederick to its only Div. IV State Championship appearance in 2013. He also earned 2013 Class 1A Coach of the Year honors. But a 24-22 combined record that followed led to Tannehill’s surprising firing in 2018, which caught him, as well as others, by surprise. The reason that was given to Tannehill was the school wanted to “go in a different direction.”
“The good Lord has his reasons for doing things,” said Tannehill, thinking back on what was a tough time in his professional life. “That’s just one that at the time, I didn’t know, but he works in mysterious ways.”
Tannehill linked back up with the Tigers and worked under McCarty the next two football seasons before ultimately succeeding him. Like Brown, McCarty meant a lot to Tannehill both personally and professionally.
“The commitment to coaching is what I’ll take away from our time together, and how you handle people,” Tannehill said. “Just watching him, when he works, he works with you. That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from him. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. A class act. He’s a great example of how to run a program.”
Tannehill admitted no one ever seeks to be the man to replace “the man,” and after McCarty’s success with the Tigers, Tannehill understands the lofty expectations that are set in place. But there have always been high standards at Neville High School. And that will never change.
“To me, this is the best job in the state of Louisiana for high schools,” Tannehill said. “We have tremendous kids from all different backgrounds that come together and play as one. And it’s been like that since the ‘40s. The coaches here are all committed. We have a great staff, and I have to be me. I can’t be Coach McCarty. It’s hard to be Coach McCarty or Coach Brown. That’s tough to follow. I’m going to be Jeff.”