Updated: Banko out as East St. John football coach

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, December 2, 2014


RESERVE — East St. John coach Phillip Banko confirmed to L’OBSERVATEUR Monday he is out as East St. John head football coach and athletic director, saying St. John School Board Superintendent Kevin George informed him the Board wants to move in a different direction.

“He told me he thought I was a good man and a good coach, but they wanted to go elsewhere with this,” Banko said. “I’ve met with my coaches and my team already, and now I’m looking for employment elsewhere.”

George released a statement regarding Banko’s departure that didn’t detail the reason for the move but wished the veteran coach well.

“Coach Banko is a good man, who is respected a great deal by me and many others in this school district,” George said. “I would like to thank him for his four years of service at East St. John High School and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Banko will still be contracted through the end of December. If he hasn’t found employment elsewhere by then, he said George informed him he will be reassigned.

The move ends a four-year run for Banko at the school, after being hired to replace former ESJ head coach Larry Dauterive. The coaching veteran had roamed numerous sidelines at different levels, including stops as an assistant at John Curtis, the NCAA’s Miami Hurricanes and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

Overall, ESJ was 26-20 under Banko’s watch, his team qualifying for the postseason in each of his four seasons.

In Banko’s first season, the Wildcats went 8-4 and won their first round playoff game at Brother Martin before bowing out to Jesuit in the regional round. East St. John won its first district championship in six years that season.

East St. John entered the next season with a Top 10 preseason rank and high expectations. That’s when Hurricane Isaac hit, ravaging St. John Parish and displacing ESJ from its flooded campus for the next three years. The storm hit between ESJ’s jamboree and Week One of the season. ESJ lost its first three games but bounced back to win five of its last six regular season games, reaching the playoffs before falling in round one of the postseason.

In each of the past two seasons, ESJ advanced to the regional round of the playoffs, winning seven and six games respectively. The Wildcats absorbed a lopsided loss at home to Destrehan, 68-14, to conclude this season. In that game, East St. John lost quarterback and LSU commitment Xavier Lewis in the first quarter of play.

Banko said the meeting with his team to deliver the news was an emotional one.

“There were tears,” Banko said. “A lot of guys were upset. I told them to stay strong, to take care of their mind, body and soul. I’m so proud of my players and the things they accomplished over the past four years. But I told them to keep moving forward. Get your degree, keep pushing forward, or else it’ll be for nothing.”

Banko, who often liked to quote football coaching greats and war generals for motivational impact, had another Monday.

“MacArthur said, ‘Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,’” Banko said. “And I told my team, us Wildcats never die, we just go roam a different jungle.

“I’ll be coaching on another sideline next year, but a big part of me will remain at Joe Keller Stadium. I embraced that place, and a lot of people embraced me as well.”