By PAUL LETLOW
Written for the LSWA
Even at the end of Mackie Freeze’s incredibly successful 13-year tenure as head football coach at Monroe’s Richwood High School, the Grambling graduate didn’t have nearly all he needed.
Except determination, discipline, and love – qualities that this week’s Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee learned early in life and had reinforced by his iconic coaches at Grambling, President Dr. Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones (baseball) and Eddie Robinson (football).
This weekend, Freeze will join Coach Rob in the LSHOF. He will be enshrined Saturday night in Natchitoches to culminate three days of festivities. For participation opportunities and information on the Class of 2020, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
Alongside him in the Class of 2020: three more inductees with deep ties to Lincoln Parish. Eight-time Mr. Olympia bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman played linebacker for Robinson from 1983-86 and graduated cum laude. Louisiana Tech also has a pair of alumni, Lady Techster basketball legend Angela Turner Johnson and former Bulldog quarterback Phil Robertson, elected for his outdoors impact as the Duck Commander and patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” family.
All four parish inductees earned master’s degrees earlier in life. Freeze will become the LSHOF’s oldest-ever inductee, turning 94 on April 11 this year. He’s still active, even cutting the grass at his home in Monroe.
That sort of grit served him and Richwood well in the era before desegregation. Freeze started the football program in 1953, borrowing gear from generous coaches at predominantly white high schools and what was then Northeast Louisiana State College. There was never enough money to buy new equipment in Freeze’s tenure, notes his last quarterback.
“We had to borrow equipment,” said Perry Thomas, a quarterback on the team from 1964-67. “Sometimes we had on mismatched cleats, not the same shoe or same size shoe. We played in whatever we had, but we always won. He said, ‘It’s within you. You will yourself to win.’”
Freeze produced a 116-23 record (.834) and fielded teams that won 56 straight games on the field while claiming four consecutive state titles from 1961-64. More than 65 of Freeze’s former players earned college scholarships and 11 were drafted or signed professional football contracts. Freeze never coached a losing season.
Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Joe Profit (Class of 1999) became the first black football player at a predominantly white college in Louisiana when he enrolled at Northeast (now ULM) in 1967.
“Coach Freeze taught us not to complain,” said Profit, a Richwood running back. “We used to get hand-me down uniforms. Coach said we’d take these and win with them. He was so grateful that we were able to get them, because we couldn’t afford to buy any uniforms. He taught us humility.”
Freeze developed other notable pros including Don Zimmerman (Philadelphia), Eugene Hughes (St. Louis), Goldie Sellers (Denver/Kansas City) and Amos Augustine (Los Angeles Rams). One of his former assistant coaches, Abe Pierce III, later became the first Black mayor of Monroe.
“A lot of leaders came through there,” the late Don Zimmerman told The (Monroe) News-Star in 2008. “If you played for Coach, you are not going to be afraid to take the bull by the horns. You want to get the job done, regardless of who gets the credit. We learned that from Coach. That equates to teamwork. That’s how we won, as a team.”
Thomas said Freeze wanted his players to have confidence, be prepared and then “go out into the world and be a positive example. That’s what they put in us at that small school.”
Discipline was always part of Freeze’s game plan.
“He was hard,” Profit said. “Coach Freeze was one of the hardest people I knew at the time, but we loved him, man. You’ve been in that situation where you love to hate somebody? We hated the way he trained and pushed us, but we loved him as a result of what came from it. Even guys that didn’t play first string were just proud to be on the team.”