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Former SID, Manager: Former Nicholls coach leaves lasting sports legacy

Brent St. Germain, Houma Daily Comet, July 25, 2015

Former Nicholls State University men’s basketball coach and athletic director Don Landry (left) helps call Baton Rouge Community College athletic events with Tommy Krysan for Pelican Broadcasting.

Don Landry has a track record of success in athletics.

As a head coach, Landry guided the Nicholls State University men’s basketball program to unprecedented success in the 1970s and continued that streak as the school’s athletic director.

As a commissioner, Landry helped shape the future of the Southland Conference and the Sunshine State Conference.

Throughout his 44-year career, Landry, 76, established himself as a leader and innovator in athletics. Those attributes helped him become a successful coach and administrator.

"I’ve been fortunate to work for some great people that helped shape my career along the way," he said. "I owe a lot of my success to people believing in me and believing I can become a successful coach and administrator. This journey would not have happened without them believing in me."

Landry’s journey began in 1960 after graduating from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) and serving as a student coach in football, basketball and baseball. He went on to coach four years in high school and spent two years as an assistant on Scotty Robertson’s basketball staff at Louisiana Tech.

In 1966, Landry got his big break when Nicholls took a chance on the then 26-year-old coach.


When Landry arrived in Thibodaux, Nicholls was a basketball program looking for stability. In its first eight seasons, Nicholls had four head coaches and only three winning seasons.

Despite being the youngest college head coach in the country at the time, Landry was determined to transform the Colonels into winners.

Landry said the support of the administration and athletic director Raymond Didier helped him accomplish that goal.

"I was fortunate to work for two outstanding presidents at Nicholls — Dr. Vernon Galliano and Dr. Donald Ayo — and they, along with Coach Didier, are responsible for helping Nicholls athletics grow and thrive," Landry said.

It took a few seasons, but Landry was able to get the Colonels heading in the right direction. Each year, Nicholls showed some improvement on the court and had a breakthrough during the 1971-72 season. Led by Division II honorable mention All-American Cleveland Hill, the Colonels finished the season with a 16-9 overall record.

Jerry Sanders, a Nicholls basketball assistant from 1970-79, said Landry worked hard to get Nicholls headed in the right direction.

"He was an excellent Xs and Os coach and was good at managing players," Sanders said. "I thought he was really organized, and I learned a lot from him. I really liked working for him."

After tasting success during the 1971-72 season, Landry worked hard to find players who could keep the Colonels heading in the right direction. Shelby Hypolite and Richard Polk arrived for the 1972-73 season, and they were followed three years later by what could be called the greatest recruiting class in Nicholls history, highlighted by the most sought player in the state — Central Lafourche’s Larry Wilson.

"Coach Landry and I worked really hard on recruiting," Sanders said. "If we saw a guy locally, we worked hard in recruiting him to Nicholls. That’s probably why we were able to get a talented player like Larry Wilson to stay close to home."

The 1974-75 season proved to be the best in school history. The Colonels finished the season with a 22-4 overall record and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament. Hypolite wrapped up his Nicholls career by being named an All-American.

That season was only the beginning for the Colonels.

"That was a magical year," he said. "The gym used to be packed, and you had to fight to get a seat. It was a magic time from there until Larry’s senior year."

Three years later, Nicholls had another banner season, but it was one filled with tragedy and triumphant for Landry. On March 9, 1978, Landry lost his mentor when Didier died of a stroke at the age of 56.

Landry took over as Nicholls’ athletic director, but he remained as the basketball coach for the 1979-78 season.

That one turned into another banner season for the Colonels. With Wilson — a three-time Division II All-American — leading the way, the Colonels rolled to a 21-7 overall record and a Gulf South Conference championship.

Nicholls’ dream of winning a Division II national championship ended again in the quarterfinals with a 103-97 loss to conference foe North Alabama in Thibodaux. North Alabama went on to win the national championship.

"After North Alabama won it all, their coach called me and said that we were better than the teams they beat in the Final Four," Landry said. "He said if we would have beaten them, there was a good chance we would have won the national championship. That was the closest we had ever come to winning a national championship." 

At the conclusion of the season, Landry decided to turn his attention to becoming the full-time athletic director at Nicholls. Sanders took over as the head coach for the men’s basketball program.

"Jerry Sanders deserves as much credit for our success," he said. "He did a phenomenal job my last season as I was splitting time between being the head coach and athletic director. I probably did my worst coaching job in my life because my duties were split, but Jerry and the staff kept things together. At the end of the year, I won several coach of the year awards because of the job of Jerry and the rest of the coaching staff."

Sanders said he was ready for the challenge of being the head coach, in part because of what he learned from Landry.

"I learned a lot from him," Sanders said. "I constantly picked his brain on things, and I learned a lot about coaching from him."

After he hung up his whistle after 13 seasons, Landry had guided the Colonels to a 173-156 record, coached four All-Americans and was twice a finalist for national coach of the year.

Despite all of the wins and accolades, one thing always remained important for Landry. It was for his players to get a quality education.

"His No. 1 goal was to make sure that everyone on the team went to class and graduated," Hypolite said. "He always said getting an education was more important than basketball. He wanted to have a good team, but he wanted us to have a quality education."


Although he was no longer the basketball coach, Landry remained a fixture at Nicholls, and his goal was to continue to build on the legacy that Didier established.

"Coach Didier is the most important athletic official to ever be at Nicholls," Landry said. "He didn’t start the program, but he set it on the right course. His influence, charisma and experience added credibility to the program, and he cleaned it up. Didier was one of the biggest influences on my career by far, and I can’t thank him enough."

One of Landry’s first tasks was to help Nicholls make the transition from Division II to Division I. Didier started the process during his tenure as athletic director, and Landry took over to make sure the process went smoothly.

Landry also helped establish the Gulf Star Conference in 1984, which featured Nicholls, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Southwest Texas State (now Texas State). He was also offered the commissioner’s job with the Gulf Star but opted to stay at Nicholls.

But in 1987, Landry was offered a job he could not refuse, and he became the new commissioner of the Southland Conference.

Landry said he enjoyed working with the Southland Conference, which was based in Plano, Texas, but there were some things he missed about Nicholls.

"It was tough because at a school like Nicholls, you get to know all of the athletes," he said. "When you are in the commissioner’s office, you know them by reputation, but you don’t really know the athletes. Getting to know all of the athletes was one of the things I enjoyed (about being at Nicholls).

Before leaving the Southland Conference, Landry helped broker a deal that allowed Nicholls to join it starting in 1991.

"One of my last achievements before I left the Southland was to get Nicholls in the conference," he said. "I didn’t do it strictly for Nicholls because the conference wanted to expand. But the non-football playing schools didn’t want Nicholls and wanted Texas-San Antonio for basketball. I had to broker a deal and we comprised by adding Nicholls to help the football playing schools and adding Texas-San Antonio for the basketball schools. That was one of my proudest achievements."


In 1990, Landry was once again offered a job he could not refuse. He was approached by a search committee looking for an executive director for the National Cutting Horse Association in Fort Worth, Texas.

Since he knew nothing about cutting horses, Landry said he thought it was a joke.

"I laughed in the guy’s face because I thought someone was playing a joke on me," he said. "I didn’t know anything about cutting horses. I’m surprised the guy didn’t hang up on me."

Landry said he had no intentions on taking the job and was offered it three times before deciding to take it.

After three years, Landry said he decided that he missed college athletics and wanted to get back into it. With no immediate openings in college athletics, Landry took a job in 1993 as the Director of Special Projects for the Texas Rangers. His responsibilities included coordinating Nolan Ryan retirement activities, opening The Ballpark in Arlington and preparing for Major League Baseball’s 1995 All-Star Game in Arlington, Texas.

Landry’s goal of getting back into college athletics came to fruition one year later when he interviewed for two commissioner jobs — the Southland Conference job and the Sunshine State Conference job in Melbourne, Fla.

"Since I was living in Texas, I though the Southland Conference would be a natural fit, but once I found out about the success of the Sunshine State Conference, I wanted that job," Landry said. "The Sunshine State Conference is the best Division II conference and has history of winning national titles, and everyone wants to be associated with a champion."

Landry became the Sunshine State Conference’s commissioner in 1994, and 25 teams won national titles in his 11-year tenure. Landry retired from athletic administration in 2004.


After his retirement, Landry and his wife, Lucille, stayed in Florida for three years before moving back to Baton Rouge to be closer to their kids.

Although he is no longer coaching, Landry is once again associated with college athletics as he is the color analyst for Pelican Broadcasting for Baton Rouge Community College athletic events.

Landry also become a published author since returning to Louisiana, penning the book "Boxing: Louisiana’s Forgotten Sport — A History of High School and College Boxing."

"Next to football, boxing was No. 1 with Louisiana high schools back in the day," he said. "It was big."

Because of Landry’s efforts, Louisiana will soon have a High School Boxing Hall of Fame, which will be located at the Iberville Historical Museum in Plaquemine. The museum is scheduled to open in the fall.

"The history of high school boxing in Louisiana will be retained forever, and I am very proud of that," he said.

Although he is no longer in the game, Landry’s influence as a coach and administrator is not forgotten. The Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches and Sunshine State Conference have awards named after him. Over the years, Landry has received numerous awards, including being named a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame after winning the Dave Dixon Award in 2007.

Hypolite said Landry deserves those honors because he was more than a coach. Many considered him mentor and a role model.

"Coach Landry was the type of coach who took his time with you and talked to you to help you become a better player and a better man," Hypolite said. "He never really said a lot. He wanted you to just do the right thing and to respect people."

Athletic Network Footnote: Special appreciation is expressed to Brent St. Germain who provided the electronic copy of this story to the AN. Peace, Ed Dugas