With a hard-nosed coaching style, Shannon Suarez became the most successful head coach in Sulphur High football history.
His storied life ended Saturday. Suarez’s daughter, Kristi Suarez Sanner, confirmed to the American Press that he passed away at a local hospital at the age of 86. He was admitted on July 13 with kidney failure and severe dehydration and later tested positive for COVID-19 according to Sanner.
“I got to Facetime with him a few times at the hospital,” Sanner said. “His night nurse told me at 1 a.m. in the morning he asked for water and for her to pray with him. He fought so hard.”
After three years as an assistant coach under Jack Donald, Suarez took over the Tor football program in 1966.
In 17 seasons, Suarez won 144 games and created one of the most feared teams in the state. Just three seasons into his tenure, Suarez led the Tors to the 1986 Class 3A finals, then the largest classification, but the Tors lost to Woodlawn-Shreveport, led by future Buffalo Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson, 25-14.
Suarez won 10 district championships, including seven consecutive from 1970 to 1976, with five quarterfinal appearances and a pair of semifinal trips in 1970 and 1975.
He was named the American Press Coach of the Year in 1968, 1970 and 1971 and was inducted in to the Louisiana High School Hall of Fame in 1996.
“His record as the winningest coach in Sulphur history speaks for itself, and his many honors are well deserved,” said David Walker, who played for Suarez in the 1970s and went on to be a starting quarterback at Texas A&M. “He will be missed tremendously by our community and the entire football world in the state of Louisiana. Shannon Suarez and Sulphur are inseparable in the minds of so many, like his mentor Bear Bryant and Alabama. It doesn’t get any better. I’m tremendously thankful I had the opportunity to play for him and to call him a dear friend afterwards. Coach Suarez was tough, hard-nosed, and scheduled practices in such a way that games would be easy, and this is how he did things.
“Off-seasons were every bit as competitive as inseason, but he also loved seeing his athletes competing in other sports. Not many people can raise school spirit to its highest level and sustain it for decades, but this is what he accomplished at Sulphur High. His ability is worth its weight in gold. Our school and our city were very fortunate to have a man of his character, and his leadership for the time that we did.”
He left Sulphur after going 10-2 and reaching the quarterfinals in 1982. He coached one season at J.M. Tate High School in Cantonment, Fla., in 1983 and finished his coaching career with a record of 181-59-8.
In his 17 seasons at Sulphur, Suarez had three undefeated regular seasons, eight 10-win seasons and 11 playoff appearance.
Suarez was a native of Biloxi, Miss., were he was a four-sport star — football, basketball, baseball, track — in high school.
He played two seasons at Perkinston, Miss., Junior College were he played halfback before joining the Marines and obtaining the rank of sergeant.
He later returned to school and earned a bachelors degree in education and masters degree from Mississippi Southern College.
His first coaching job was at Jefferson Military Academy in Natchez, Miss., coaching basketball and football. After one season there, Suarez got his first job as a head football coach, spending four at Ocean Spring High School (Miss.), and going 29-11-4.
Suarez was known for his love of Alabama football and often wore a houndstooth hat like legendary Alabama head coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.
“He modeled our practices after Alabama’s but he was his own man,” Walker said. “He looked up to Bear Bryant. He was a lifetime Alabama fan after meeting him.”
Suarez by the numbers
144Wins at SHS
17 Seasons at SHS
10District title at SHS
7Consecutive district titles
3SWLA Coach of the Year
1959Ocean Springs (Miss.)6-3-1
1960Ocean Springs (Miss.)7-3-0
1961Ocean Springs (Miss.)7-2-1
1962Ocean Springs (Miss.)7-3-0
1984J.M. Tate (Fla.)8-2-0