St. Aloysius to honor Salmon tonight

Published 11:10 am Friday, November 7, 2014

LIVING LEGEND: Longtime St. Aloysius assistant coach Jimmy Salmon stands inside the school’s fieldhouse, which will be named for him at halftime of tonight’s football game against Greenville-St. Joseph.

LIVING LEGEND: Longtime St. Aloysius assistant coach Jimmy Salmon stands inside the school’s fieldhouse, which will be named for him at halftime of tonight’s football game against Greenville-St. Joseph.

Everybody at St. Aloysius, it seems, has a story or two about Jimmy Salmon.

Quarterback Connor Smith laughed at the memory of Salmon yelling at him on the field — and being just as fiery in history class. His father, who played football for Salmon in the 1970s, had similar recollections.

Assistant coach Russ Nelson, who graduated from St. Al in 2004, remembered a day when Salmon made he and his teammates do more than a hundred up-downs in the rain and mud just to make an impression on a visiting junior high team.

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What all of the stories have in common — besides Salmon yelling — is the ending. The warm-hearted smile the longtime coach gave them afterward, the friendly advice he provided, or the self-deprecating joke he was quick to share. They’re the kind of stories that have endeared Salmon to generations of St. Al students and athletes, and the reason he’ll receive one of the school’s biggest honors Friday night.

Salmon, who has coached and taught at St. Al for 36 years, will have the school’s fieldhouse named for him during halftime of the football game against Greenville-St. Joseph.

“I’ve heard people are coming back for this, and I’m just astounded. I wouldn’t want to see me,” Salmon said with a laugh. “It’s kind of an eye-opener, because you don’t think about it that much. I just had no idea I influenced these kids

that way.”

Salmon, a St. Al graduate, went to work at his alma mater in 1974. He stayed six years, then left for another job, and returned in 1984. He’s been there ever since.

Over the years, the 63-year-old has held a number of coaching jobs with the school. He was the head track and field coach for nearly two decades, took a turn as the boys basketball coach and even as athletic director. All the while, he’s done a lot of the grunt work behind the scenes to keep the program running.

“Cut grass, cleaned the dressing room, taped the ankles,” Salmon said when listing his many jobs at St. Al.

When it came time to give St. Al’s fieldhouse a name, football coach BJ Smithhart said Salmon’s years of dedication to the school made him an obvious choice.

“It just made sense. We don’t want it to be a ‘memorial’ or anything like that. We don’t want to run him off or make him think he’s got to retire, but we want him to know we appreciate him,” Smithhart said. “He just wants the school and the athletic program to succeed. That’s just the way he was brought up, the way his coaches were to him, and the way he is to his players.”

Although he was never the head coach, Salmon was a fixture on St. Al’s football staff from the beginning of his tenure until he stepped down at the end of the 2013 season. Along the way, he not only guided the Flashes on the field but through life, Nelson said. Salmon’s tough but loving approach made an impression that lasted far beyond the football field.

“He’s one of the best men I’ve been around,” Nelson said. “It’s funny to see both sides. We butted heads when I played, but when I came back to coach he was happy to teach me.”

Salmon’s approach can be gruff for the uninitiated. The skinny, 5-foot-7 man in the glasses has often been the meanest, toughest, and loudest guy on the practice field.

Nelson recalled one instance of Salmon’s fury and discipline in the wake of a blowout loss to archrival Cathedral. He had the team do one up-down — dropping into a push-up position and then getting back up — for every one of the 45 points the Flashes lost by. Then, Salmon got word that Greenville-St. Joe’s junior high basketball team was about to arrive for a game.

Wanting to put on a display for a future opponent, Salmon kept the up-downs going — even after it started raining and St. Joe showed up late.

“We did 100 of them in the mud,” Nelson said, shaking his head and smiling. “We didn’t question it. We just did it.”

Another time, Nelson said, Salmon kept screaming at someone for running the wrong play in practice. As the player ignored him, Salmon’s fury grew and the yelling intensified.

What Salmon didn’t realize was that the player was hearing impaired and didn’t have his hearing aids in. When Salmon finally grabbed the player to get his attention, he looked into the confused man’s eyes, quickly realized his mistake and apologized.

“He just started laughing, and called himself an idiot,” Nelson said.

Salmon’s sense of humor takes some of the edge off the gruff exterior. It’s also allowed players to see that there’s a motive behind his fiery demeanor and disciplinarian ways. He’s as quick to offer an encouraging word as he is a stern one.

“That’s how I’ve always viewed it. it’s always helpful rather than he’s just screaming to scream,” Smith said. “I also had him as a teacher last year, which was really interesting because he’s the same way in the classroom as he was as a coach. He does it for the good.”

Smithhart said Salmon’s honest approach has generated not only respect, but love from his former players and colleagues.

“He’s the first person kids want to see when they come back through the door. He’s respected by the kids, the parents, everybody,” Smithhart said. “He’s just a no-nonsense, old school coach. The kids and everybody respect that. He’s a big part of this school, not just the athletic program.”

Soon, he’ll be a permanent part as well.

The fieldhouse will be formally named the “Jimmy Salmon Fieldhouse” on Friday night. Permanent signage and a plaque will go on the steel building after the season. Salmon joked that he wondered why anyone would name it after such a jerk.

“Somebody called me at home to congratulate me, and never did say what for. I had no idea. We always talked about naming it and I had plenty of names — a heck of a lot better than my name,” Salmon said.

True to his humble nature, Salmon also joked that he was glad the ceremony would take place at halftime, when there’s a tighter time limit on such things, than before the game when it would be more of a spectacle.

“I’ll be glad when Friday is over. It’s an honor, and I appreciate it, but you don’t go into this job thinking they’ll name a building after you,” Salmon said. “It’s hard to put into words. Of course I appreciate it greatly. It just never entered my mind it would happen. It means a lot to me.”


About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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