By Kevin Foote
Written for the LSWA
Many successful coaches in his sport are football minds who become great leaders.
Lewis Cook was a great leader who eventually became one of the best high school football coaches the state has ever produced.
The composure the 2018 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee has displayed on the sidelines of high school football games over the last four decades is now legendary.
And so are his record, his winning tradition and perhaps most of all the respect he’s gained from his players, friends, colleagues and foes alike.
“Lewie Cook was a natural leader,” said his lifelong friend Ronald Prejean from Rayne. “He wasn’t loud, nothing fancy about him, but he always had a presence about him.”
Cook officially joins the state Hall of Fame Saturday, June 30, at the induction dinner and ceremony at the Natchitoches Events Center, a football field away from the five-year-old Hall of Fame Museum at 800 Front Street.
As Prejean remembers, Cook’s leadership qualities were being displayed long before he ever imagined coaching in a game.
“I can remember on the school grounds at Rayne High School when Lewie was in the ninth grade,” Prejean said. “If trouble broke out, all it took was for Lewie to walk out and say, ‘Enough,’ or that little nod he does and that was it. He broke it up. It’s just this special knack he’s got to make people feel comfortable. It’s because he’s so genuine.
“People respected him. He always had a kind word for people, whether you were a standout athlete or a member of the chorus, whether you lived in town or lived in the country, Lewie always had good things to say about you and always had time to talk to people.”
In his 33 years as a head coach, Cook has led his teams to 31 playoff appearances, reaching the semifinals 18 times, the state finals 12 times and won four state championships. His career playoff record is 75-27.
Only J.T. Curtis has more state runners-up appearances than Cook in Louisiana prep football history.
His career record of 344-82 puts Cook as the third-winningest active coach ever behind Curtis and St. Thomas More’s Jim Hightower, as well as the No. 5 overall.
Cook is only one win behind Don Shows in fourth place and 22 behind third-place Red Franklin of Haynesville.
“He’s the consummate professional,” said Larry Dauterive, a longtime coach and former coaching mentor to Cook. “He’s got such a big heart and such a caring personality. That translates ions for the kids he’s coaching. They’re just drawn to him. He’s got that charisma about him.”
For the last two decades, few have witnessed the true greatness behind Cook’s success more than defensive coordinator James McCleary.
“He’s a man of integrity and his leadership is about sacrifice,” McCleary said. “He’s willing to put his own interest behind what’s important and what’s best for everybody else.”