Legendary Edna Karr coach Don Wattigny dies at age 81
A legend in New Orleans high school coaching has passed away.
Former Karr football coach Don Wattigny died overnight at the age of 81 at his home in Harvey.
Wattigny went to church and went to his grandchild’s baseball game Saturday. He wasn’t feeling well when he went to bed at 10:30 p.m. Saturday before passing away overnight.
The cause of death is unknown, though Wattigny did suffer a heart attack on Oct. 19, 2019. Wattigny had quadruple bypass surgery in 1998 and returned to coaching very quickly.
The impact Wattigny had on the sport and on the careers of others is immense and it is impressive.
Wattigny started the careers of many high school head coaches, including West Jefferson head coach Willie Brooks, former Karr and St. Augustine coach Nathaniel Jones, current St. Augustine coach Nick Foster, current Karr coach Brice Brown, Warren Easton head coach Jerry Phillips and Patrick Surtain, who currently serves as the head coach at American Heritage High School Florida.
Karr won the Class 3A state championship in 1993 in its first year as a varsity high school football program and made the state championship game in 1995 and 1999. Wattigny was the Louisiana 3A Coach of the Year in 1993 with Surtain, a future NFL star, as his standout player.
Wattigny played high school football at Holy Name of Mary in Algiers, playing on a state championship team in his junior year, and played at Tulane before graduating at Northeast Louisiana.
Wattigny served an assistant coach at De La Salle from 1984-1991, also serving as head track coach, before going to Karr when it was known as Algiers Area School. He served at Karr through 2002 before retiring with Jabbar Juluke taking over in 2003.
“He meant everything to me,” Brooks said. “He gave me my start as a coach. He had so much faith in me that I never wanted to let him down. He showed me how to win in this business the right way, with class and dignity. You can never find anyone in Louisiana that ever had a bad word for him. He was a perfect example for us coming up. He was my mentor. He was a second dad for me. I never made a major decision in my career without consulting him first. We talked every few days. I will miss him so much.”
Foster played for Wattigny at Karr.
“I know he misses me and he is my inspiration in coaching,” Foster said. “I was so close to him. He was the toughest human being I ever encountered when I played for him. He never cut corners. He pushed us. There was no quit. He always taught us to finish.
“As a man, I took those same principles through college and life. He always kept in touch with me and would come to my home. He genuinely cared about everyone. Don epitomized what everyone should be. He was a white coach who coached predominantly black kids and loved them. He loved everyone. It is a sad day. He was a great man.”
Brown played for Wattigny at Karr as well.
“We have lost our coach and we have lost a great mentor,” Brown said. “I saw him as our coach but I saw him as our friend. He always called me to encourage me and to give me pointers. He was always at our games sitting on our sidelines.
“We lost a great man. We know he is in a better place. My condolences to the family and to the entire Karr family. He meant to much to many of us. It is a sad day for Karr.”
Jones also played for Wattigny at Karr.
“He meant a lot to me,” Jones said. “He is the ultimate class act. He cared about young people and developing them into good young men. All the kids that he came in contact with, he made a difference. He was a straight shooter. He would get on you when you needed it.
“With the current state of our world today, he is one of those guys that lived the way you should. The young men he coached and knew, their lives mattered. He affected their lives. I would never be the man I am if I had never met Don Wattigny. He loved me and I loved him. He truly made a difference.”
Phillips played at Karr for Wattigny as well.
“He is my guy,” Phillips said. “He is one of the main reasons we are who we are, us Karr guys. He instilled that in us. He touched so many people and made so many of us better. We will always appreciate him for that. He taught me to hold everyone accountable, from the superstar to the kid who carried the water cooler. He didn’t accept any excuses. He wanted you to do what you were supposed to do when you were supposed to do it. He was special.”
Well after he retired, I was blessed to do several high school games with Wattigny, who loved the sport. Wattigny was the consummate gentleman, a person who cared deeply about all he coached, worked with and encountered. To know Wattigny was to like him.
“Don never did it for money,” Jones said. “It was about young people. He was color blind. He truly loved everyone. He took me out to lunch when I was in high school to talk to me about my future, what to expect out of life. He was a father figure for a young man that was developing.
“I have used those life lessons. Coach Wattigny is a lesson, in these difficult times, of how we all should be.”
Wattigny is survived by his wife, Edith, along with daughters Shanon, Janell and Beth and six grandchildren.
“He had his Karr football shirt on when he died,” Shanon said. “He wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…