To be a head football coach has always been Neil May’s dream, but family has always come first.
He’s had opportunities in his 16-year career as an assistant. But it would have meant uprooting his family — wife Erin, daughter Bailey and son Peyton — from South Bossier, a community he’s been part of for 20 years.
Well, sometimes opportunity presents itself when you least expect it.
May or anyone else didn’t expect there to be an opening for a head football coach at Parkway High School six weeks ago — certainly not when the coach in place, David Feaster, had averaged 10 wins over six seasons.
Yes, Feaster has been known for making moves throughout his career. Anything was possible. But with a potential powerhouse team coming back in 2017, that seemed unlikely.
Sometimes things happen, though. In this case, Feaster was relieved of his coaching duties by principal Waylon Bates on Feb. 17.
The reasons for his dismissal have been well-documented — and hotly debated. There’s no need to rehash them here.
May, who turns 40 on March 24, served as Feaster’s defensive coordinator for all six seasons and two years before that under Chris Hill and Jim Gatlin. He often said Feaster was a “good guy” in defending him from critics.
He also understands the popularity of Feaster among the current players and South Bossier community.
In six years, Feaster, with help from May and other assistants, had made Parkway, never known for its football success, into a state powerhouse.
But here was an opportunity that May couldn’t pass up. So he applied for the job along with approximately 24 others, including more than one with a state championship on their resumes.
And on March 14, May’s dream was realized when Bates told him he would be Parkway’s next head coach.
“This has been my dream for a long time,” May said at a March 15 press conference introducing him. “My family taught me how to be a leader. The people that I’ve been associated with my whole life taught me how to lead.
“I think there are leaders and I think there are servant leaders, and I think you have to be a servant leader before you’re a leader and that’s what I’ve tried to do my whole career. If I told you I’d never wanted to be a head coach I’d be lying to you. I’ve always had this dream of being a head coach. But I never pressed it. … So you know I think God’s timing is good. If it took coach May 17 years to be in this position, that’s just what it took. So here I am.”
Parkway quarterback Justin Rogers, who will be a senior this fall, was among the players who let it be known through social media they weren’t happy about the decision to let Feaster go.
But May’s hiring has alleviated some of his concerns.
“It was a big thing, kind of like the situation at LSU with Coach O (head coach Ed Orgeron),” Rogers said at the press conference. “That’s how the team approached the situation. We felt like it was the right thing to do to bring in someone who is already a part and knew how things were going.”
The team found out May was going to be the head coach on the same day he did. The players were told by Bates at a meeting attended by the assistant principals and coaching staff.
“It was actually pretty special,” May said. “The kids were excited. They were ecstatic. They were jumping up and down and hollering. I think that meant a lot to them to look up and see a familiar face.”
Rogers, the Offensive MVP on the 2016 All-Parish team, and wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. are among the nation’s top college prospects in the Class of 2018 at their positions.
May is certainly smart enough to know you don’t change things that are working, which certainly describes Parkway’s offense.
“We’re going to throw it,” he said. “We’re going to sling it. That’s what we do. That’s what the people of South Bossier love, and that’s what us as coaches love to do. That was a big question that the kids had. We’ve got a front-loaded schedule this next year. It couldn’t be any tougher.
“Offensively, I feel like what we need to do, we need to continue with what we’ve been doing to some extent because our skill position kids are all going to be seniors. I think it would be foolish of us to put in a brand-new spanking offense and expect those guys to be good at it Week 1.
“Obviously the kids on defense know coach May the best. But I feel like once the guys on offense really get to know coach May they’re going to understand real quick that I love them and I care about them and we’re in this thing together.”
That doesn’t mean a few changes aren’t in store.
“We’re absolutely going to tweak some things,” said May, who was an assistant coach at Captain Shreve for eight years before coming to Parkway.
While he wouldn’t mention names, May said there will be some additions to the coaching staff. Obviously, he will still have significant input as to how the defense is run, but it can’t be his sole responsibility anymore.
“I do feel like there’s something to when the head coach is just the head coach because that would allow me to build the culture throughout the whole team and not be stuck with only half the team,” he said.
“But at the same time I’ve got to get it right. I can’t afford to make a wrong move when it come to bringing a coach onto this staff — not only because of Xs and Os and this and that but because this is where I live.
“We have a certain way of doing things around here in how we raise our kids and I can’t just bring someone that’s potentially not going to be a good role model and such so I’ve got to be careful, but that’s something that I’m looking at.”
Because of Parkway’s success on the football field over the last decade, the head coaching job brings with it a certain amount of pressure.
This is obviously not a rebuilding situation. That’s fine with May, who has helped create the pressure and culture of success. Parkway has won 82 games and lost only 17 during his time at the school.
“The kids that we have, they win,” he said. “They know how to win. They know what it takes to win. And that’s a culture that we’ve built here no matter who’s the head coach.”
May has experience in that kind of culture as player, too. He was a starter on Evangel Christian Academy’s first two state championship teams in 1993 and 1994.
May has been Parkway’s head softball coach the past eight seasons and he plans to continue that through this season, which is about half over.
Spring football practice doesn’t officially begin until after the season the over. Of course, there are always things for a head coach to do and the double duty will keep him busy.
If there was one thing May wanted to get across in the first meetings with his football team, it was this.
“I said, ‘Guys, I’m not coach Feaster. I’m coach May, and all I can do as coach May is do what I believe in.’ I think that it is going to help that I’m a guy they’re familiar with but at the same time every coach is different. I think that transition is going go smooth because I’m a guy they know.”
While that, of course, remains to be seen, it does appear the Neil May era at Parkway is off to a good start.
Russell Hedges is Sports Editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He may be reached at email@example.com