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Louisiana's First Female HS Football Coach Driven by Championship Dreams

Damon Sayles@@DamonSaylesNational Recruiting AnalystMay 29, 2015

Laurie Williams

Susan Gremillion still remembers when she decided she wanted to be a head football coach.  

It was shortly after she enrolled in a Football Coaching class during her junior year at LSU. She was hooked, and mastering the craft of coaching quickly became her goal. 

"It was probably one of those easy A's for the LSU football players in there," Gremillion said. "There were three females in the class, and all three of us were student athletic trainers.

"The other two ladies went on to become athletic trainers. I realized after that class I wanted to be a coach."

She became an assistant coach after graduation and has been a learning sponge for more than a dozen years. Now Gremillion has the opportunity to fulfill her dream, as she recently was announced as the first female head football coach at a high school in the state of Louisiana.

Gremillion will take over duties from her husband, Darren, at the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana School for the Deaf, a team that plays eight-man football. Darren, who has coached at LSD the last 15 seasons, will remain at the school as an assistant principal, as well as the head powerlifting coach. He also plans to help the football team as an assistant under his wife.

The 2015 season will be the perfect opportunity for Gremillion to show that when it comes to football, gender rules don't apply.

Speaking her players' language

Gremillion is quick to kill any immediate rumors. She didn't get into coaching to set records or become a trendsetter for women's rights. She's also well aware that women coaching football is almost viewed oxymoronically by some.

Being named the first female high school head coach in the state will be a badge of honor she'll wear with pride. Being named the first female head coach at LSD, however, might hold a little more weight sentimentally.

There's no language barrier between Gremillion and her athletes. She is fluent in American Sign Language and doesn't need an interpreter to converse with her students.

"I think that helps with a totally different level of respect," she said. "I can communicate for myself; I'm in their language."

In her 12 years as an assistant prior to the recent promotion, Gremillion says she went to work looking to make a difference.

And, for most of those days, mission accomplished. Now she'll do the same as a head coach.

"There was nothing personal with me as far as having a family member who's hearing impaired. I just have a love for this," Gremillion said. "I have a passion to teach and an even deeper passion to coach and teach these kids. We're there giving them life experiences, and it's an awesome experience to be the person with them sharing some of their first experiences."

'She's a perfectionist'

Gremillion will coach a group of athletes who range from being completely deaf to those who are capable of hearing most everything with the assistance of a hearing aid. The school additionally teams up with the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired in athletics, which includes athletes who are either blind in one eye or suffer from only partial visual impairment.

Gremillion was the special teams coordinator last season for LSD, a team that finished 7-2.

Her husband still remembers asking her for weeks and weeks to join his staff over a decade ago. Now that he's passing the torch, he feels the job went to the right person.

"She is a perfectionist," Darren said. "She is very intense, and she's a stickler for the little things. She's a very detailed person. With special teams, if one kid got one foot outside the assigned lane, she was going berserk.

"You want your coaches to be enthused and to take ownership. She's a real fiery coach who is totally immersed in whatever she's doing. I knew she was ready to take over."

To which Susan responded: "My husband begged me and begged me to join his staff, and I finally said, 'You've got nine months.' That was what...13, 14 years ago now?"

Susan's first priority as a head coach is simple. She wants the program to return to the days of 2005, when LSD won a national championship. Last year's LSD squad lost close battles to Mississippi School for the Deaf and Alabama School for the Deaf, and she defined the year with one phrase.

"Two tackles and one touchdown," she said. "That's how close we were last year. We have something to shoot for." 

Credit: Laurie Williams

Learning from the Master

Gremillion's instructor for that fateful coaching class was Dr. Sam Nader, a longtime vet of LSU football who is now the assistant AD of football operations.

Nader's coaching resume goes back to the 1960s. He first joined LSU as a graduate assistant in 1975 and has risen through the ranks at the SEC power since. 

Gremillion said Nader gave her a fresh appreciation of the game with every new thing he taught. She described the experience as transforming "something one-dimensional into something three-dimensional," and she made it a goal to get better grades than her male counterparts.

Gremillion said she learned more than simple X's and O's of the game from Nader. She was fascinated with the mental aspect of a team when it ran like a well-oiled machine.

"There are 22 moving pieces," she said. "I've never played chess a day in my life, but it is what I can best relate what chess is like. I never realized that until I sat in that class. I was blown away. Guys weren't just out there beating the heck out of each other. There's a lot of thought process with every play."

'I've got a job to do'

For those who believe women shouldn't coach football, Darren Gremillion has one response: Watch his wife on the field before commenting.

"There was a gentleman on the radio [Wednesday] afternoon ripping women coaching a male-dominated sport," Darren said. "Does that mean a woman would be better suited to coach at UConn instead of Geno Auriemma? Those still living in the 1950s should wake up and smell the coffee.

"Anybody who has something to say has never been at our practice or at a game. If they've been there, they'll know that there are never any questions. She has such an established rapport with the kids that the gender deal is absolutely irrelevant."

Susan doesn't let the criticism bother her. It's either focus on the negativity or find ways to return LSD to the top of the national ranks.

She's choosing to do the latter.

"It's all about getting to the next level," she said. "That 2005 championship season is one of my most vivid memories. The light bulb finally clicked on with the kids; it was the most intense you could ever see teenaged boys. They understood the game, and that's the next level I want this program to go.

"I'm not here to take someone else's job or to make history. But if someone asks, 'Why her?' then I'll ask, 'Why not me?' It's old-school to think a certain gender can't do a job, especially when you have some football coaches out there who have never stepped on a field."

Susan will have five starters to work with in 2015, including three who saw time as two-way starters last season. The idea of being a trailblazer for women is honorable to her, but the goal of winning a national title is what drives her more.

"I've got a job to do," she said.

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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