By Lenny Vangilder
Crescent City Sports
Otis Washington, the Hall of Fame Coach who guided St. Augustine High School to three state championships in a five-year span in the 1970s, died early Friday, the school announced. He was 80.
Washington guided the Purple Knights to Class AAAA State Titles in 1975, 1978 and 1979. In 11 years as St. Augustine’s Head Coach, Washington won 113 games against only 17 losses, captured seven Catholic League Titles and sent more than 120 players into college football.
He was a 2015 Inductee into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and also is a member of the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame, the Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, the New Orleans Prep Hall of Fame and the St. Augustine Hall of Fame.
“On behalf of the entire St. Augustine High School Community, we offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Otis Washington, whose legend and legacy have touched generations of Purple Knights,” St. Augustine President and CEO Dr. Kenneth St. Charles said in a school news release Friday morning. “He was a passionate, innovative leader who helped establish the standard for St. Augustine athletics. Coach Wash shaped St. Augustine football into a program that reflects his dedication to discipline, teamwork, scholarship, and excellence both on and off the field. We celebrate his lifetime of accomplishment and his unwavering commitment to St. Augustine.”
A native of Selma, Alabama, Washington came to Louisiana on a football scholarship to Xavier University. He never left.
Washington captained Xavier’s final football team in 1959 and earned all-conference honors in football and baseball. When the university dropped athletics, it honored his scholarship and he graduated in 1961.
On a recommendation from former Xavier Baseball Coach John Crowe, Washington landed a teaching and coaching position at St. Augustine, where he stayed for 19 seasons – eight as an assistant coach before becoming head coach prior to the 1969 season.
St. Augustine won three Louisiana Interscholastic Athletic and Literary Organization Championships in a four-year span with Washington as an assistant. Once integration took place, the school became a member of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association in 1967.
Four years later, in Washington’s third year as a head coach, the Purple Knights played for an LHSAA State Championship, losing to Brother Martin in the AAAA final at Tad Gormley Stadium, 23-0.
A year later, despite having to forfeit eight games because of an ineligible player, Washington was named the State’s Class AAAA Coach of the Year.
In 1975, St. Augustine capped a 15-0 season – the only perfect season in school history – with a 35-13 victory at Covington for its First State Championship.
The 1978 championship game against Jesuit is one of, if not the, most significant title games in state history. The Catholic League rivals elected to move the championship game to the Superdome, and 44,000 watched the Purple Knights defeat the Blue Jays 13-7.
Last fall, Washington recalled the Jesuit game on the WLAE series “Talk of Glory.”
“I was a little apprehensive going into the game,” Washington said in the interview. “Jesuit had a lot of tradition. We knew that if we beat Jesuit, then St. Aug would have arrived.’”
The large crowd moved Dome spokesperson Bill Curl to contact LHSAA officials about hosting all of its title games on Poydras Street. The LHSAA approved, beginning with the 1981 season, and the Dome has been home to every football title game for 37 of the last 38 years.
In what would be Washington’s final game at St. Augustine, the Purple Knights won a second consecutive title, defeating New Iberia 16-7 at Cajun Field in Lafayette for the 1979 Championship.
Washington’s success on the prep level moved him to the college game. He became the first African- American assistant coach at LSU, where he coached the offensive line on Jerry Stovall’s staff in 1980. The next year, Washington became head coach at Southern University, where he stayed for six years.
Washington lived in Baton Rouge after retirement.
Funeral arrangements are pending.