A winter storm bit New Orleans in January of 1930, and an energetic newborn wriggled in his nurse’s arms. “Oh, we’ve got a stormy baby here,” she said, and just like that, Jules “Stormy” Mugnier had a nickname.
Stormy would soon channel his energy into sports. His father, a seaman and engineer, was often traveling for work, so it was his mother who introduced him to different sports, escorting him to a variety of sporting events on a regular basis, often weekly. He grew up to attend Jesuit High School in New Orleans, a school known for the athletic prowess of its students. Among the school’s alumni were future big leaguers with names straight from “The Sopranos”: Fats Dantonio, Putsy Caballero, Tookie Gilbert.
A bit of a late bloomer, Mugnier took a few years to grow into his seemingly natural athleticism. The summer before his junior year of high school, Stormy was 5 feet 10 inches tall. By the time he graduated, he stood at 6 feet 4 inches and played all-city and all-state in both baseball and basketball. “The story there is that I came on late, ” he says, noting that he only played basketball his senior year. After that, he went on to impress a number of pro scouts and begin a legacy that would last generations.
All the Accolades
In 1948, Mugnier left his hometown (and his nickname) behind to accept a scholarship to play baseball and basketball at Spring Hill College, both coached by Bill Gardiner. He would eventually lead the Badgers to the Gulf States Conference championship in basketball in 1952, garnering league MVP honors in the process.
Mugnier’s gifts attracted notice from many. On the baseball field, his talents were gaining the interest of professional teams. He was invited to the New York Yankees’ Baseball School in Branson, Missouri, where the purpose was to “help you as a player, to assist you in your start in professional baseball and to acquaint you with our organization, ” according to a letter from Yankees farm director Lee McPhail in 1949.
Milt Bolling, a fellow Spring Hill alum and Boston Red Sox scout, “always talked about what I could’ve done in baseball, ” Mugnier shares. “He was very complimentary.”
But another Boston team had already taken a keen interest in him. Red Auerbach, arguably the greatest talent evaluator the NBA has ever seen, noticed the big man from the small Jesuit college in Mobile. Auerbach and the Boston Celtics selected Mugnier in the eighth round of the 1952 NBA draft.
Unfortunately, any pro basketball plans were put on hold, as Mugnier was subject to a different kind of draft.
“Going into my senior year at Spring Hill, I was going to be drafted (by the military), but they made an exception to let me go one year in the ROTC. But along with that was a two-year military obligation, ” he says. “I got caught up in the Korean situation — spent one year there.”
In a handwritten letter, Auerbach asked Mugnier to keep him updated on his status with the army, and he even offered to use his Washington, D.C., connections to get him “stationed at a base where they play some good basketball.”
When Mugnier returned from Korea, he went to work out for the Celtics. In those days, there was a National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL) with companies like Phillips 66 and the Ada Oilers. “I was at the Celtic camp, and I probably would’ve played a year or so. Who knows?” Mugnier says. But, had he signed with the Celtics as planned, he would’ve forfeited any opportunity to play in the NIBL, which offered a regular job with a regular salary. “I went with the Ada Oilers because you worked for them. I had two children, and it seemed like the thing to do, ” he explains. “They called me from Houston and said, ‘We really want you to come to work for us.’ So I did.
“We had a company plane, fancy jackets, boots, cowboy hats.” After a couple of years, however, that all changed. “The stockholders said that we were costing too much so they disbanded the team, and I came back to Mobile.”
His flirtations with professional sports behind him, Mugnier started picking up other sports, namely tennis, golf and fast-pitch softball; granted, he “picked up” sports the same way that Einstein “picked up” science. Though he’s never had a lesson, he began winning tennis tournaments, eventually ranking first in doubles in the Southern Tennis Association and rising as high as ninth nationally. He would win the first flight in golf tournaments, and he even got his handicap down to two or three. He also became one of the best fast-pitch softball players in the city. (“Nobody knows what a big deal fast-pitch softball was in the 50s, 60s and 70s, ” he says.)
His favorite sport? “I’ve been asked that a lot. Looking back, I loved everything that had a ball connected to it. There’s really just no preference.”
The Most Athletic Family Tree
Mugnier and his former wife, Pat, have five children: four girls and a boy. They instilled in their young ones a strong faith and a competitive spirit, values that have trickled down into the next generation.
When speaking with Mugnier, most of his stories begin, “One of the grandchildren…” He has 17 of them, nearly all of whom have excelled in at least one sport. Among them, the grandchildren hold 18 state championship rings, and six went to college on athletic scholarships. He brags on all of them, although it’s not really bragging when it’s true — and especially not when it’s about your grandchildren.
Now 85, Mugnier meets almost daily with a regular group of guys to play cards and shoot the bull. He also meets with a trainer a few times a week. Much to the disbelief of his gin rummy buddies, he can not only remember all 17 of his grandchildren’s names, but he can also tell you exactly what they’re doing. He attended as many of their games as possible, sometimes catching three in a single night. “I just looked forward to seeing them play, ” he says with a shrug.
These days, he’s mostly answering questions — and you can tell he’s having fun — about his grandson, Jake Coker, currently living the family legacy as the quarterback for the University of Alabama. With a proud glimmer in his eye, Mugnier will tell you all about how Jimbo Fisher, Coker’s coach during his brief stint at Florida State, told Jules, “He’s not going to be a good one — he’s going to be a great one.”
And he’s equally enthusiastic when he talks about the grandson who gave up football in order to focus on piloting, eventually flying in missions in Afghanistan. Or the granddaughter who plays volleyball and runs track at the Air Force Academy. Or the grandson, a high school junior, whose 6-foot-7-inch frame helps him excel on the basketball court. Or the granddaughter, an artist, whose paintings won first place at the Grand Festival of Art in Fairhope.
“I’ve met a lot of people, a lot of close families, ” Mugnier says. “But it’s hard to beat this one. These grandchildren have really supported each other.”
He continues, “Participating in athletics and being part of a team, it has a lot to do with life.”
Greatness in this family isn’t just limited to the playing field. Click here to read all about “recreational pop artist” Emily Barnes, Jules Mugnier’s granddaughter and Fairhope-based painter.