Thanksgiving is a time for gathering, gratitude, grubbing down and griping. The latter, especially, if you are a football fan of any of the established college football programs in the 318.
Grambling, Louisiana Tech, Northwestern State, ULM — all are festering in differing degrees of grim grid reality.
A bunch of pals now on Medicare treasure the times they convened on Thanksgiving mornings on the turf at Northwestern’s Turpin Stadium for the annual Turkey Bowl classic. Touch football, talked about for weeks in the run-up, and groaned about afterward because of sore hamstrings, twisted backs, and bruised egos.
NSU coach Sam Goodwin was an eager participant, and provided the football. Longtime Natchitoches Parish Clerk of Court/current state Sen. Louie Bernard and councilman and eventual three-term Natchitoches mayor Lee Posey were among the pivotal players, or so they good-naturedly claim.
There’s no Turkey Bowl these days. Lawyers worried about liability would’ve gotten in the way eventually. But there are priceless memories, including Goodwin taking part just before his team boarded buses to the airport for a flight to Boise and a 1988 Division I-AA playoff victory.
Now, triumphs are distant for the Demons. Worse, they haven’t been allowed to try to win for the last month, their final four games cancelled, five total, an administrative decision related to the tragic shooting death of a teammate Oct. 12.
But despite fears that NSU might shelve the program indefinitely, don’t be shocked if athletics director Kevin Bostian is announcing a new head coach this week. There’s been a scan of possibilities since September and the search became official Oct. 26 with the predictable resignation of embattled coach Brad Laird, who remained well regarded by most players.
“Laird might not have had the most wins, but I can tell you he had so much love for his players,” sophomore safety Antwon Fegans told The Athletic in a story published Nov. 14 about the turbulent recent days in Natchitoches. “And he allowed his players to make so many decisions because he expected us to be mature enough to make those decisions, and I just don’t think this team was mature enough to be able to do that.”
It’s a tightly-guarded search. Interviews have been ongoing recently – former NSU offensive coordinator and very successful current Delta State coach Todd Cooley got one – and prospective picks were assured the salary pool for coaches will be significantly hiked.
Northwestern urgently needs a positive narrative on the football front, and sometime soon an exciting hire will be made, and a rebuilding process launched.
Will that happen along I-20? It’s being heavily speculated in Lincoln Parish and in Monroe. Such is the nature of the coaching cycle, where two or three seasons of struggle seems intolerable. Patience is fleeting. Progress is elusive.
In Ruston, a third straight three-win season – no matter how close several of those games were to wins – have Sonny Cumbie’s status in question. That, and a bizarre episode during a Nov. 7 practice, when Cumbie ripped BleedTechBlue.com reporter/publisher Ben Carlisle – a former Tech baseball player and an unabashed “Tech fan since I was born” — in front of players and coaches.
Wrote Carlisle on his social media account: “Coach Cumbie called me over to where the entire offense/offensive coaching staff … was gathered. After asking me to introduce myself and tell the offense what I did, I explained that I covered recruiting, radio show, post-game show, etc.
“As I spoke he demanded that I ‘look them in the eyes when I talk.’ When I was finished, he told me I wasn’t supportive enough to be given further access to the program, kicked me out and told me that I was no longer welcome at practice except for the open media portions (which hasn’t occurred since fall camp).”
Hornets nest stirred. Cumbie soon doubled down, saying he would always defend players from critics. That’s his right, but it was bush league to do it that way, not to mention dubious to publicly criticize a media member, suggest he should be “supportive,” and foolish to take on a well-regarded, long-established local admitted fan/semi-journalist.
The discouraging conclusion to the season, dropping back-to-back games to just-arrived FBS teams and Conference USA newbies Sam Houston and Jacksonville State, have intensified speculation. A hefty contract buyout could be a key reason to retain Cumbie. We’ll soon see.
Hue Jackson is a charming personality, with a long coaching resume in the NFL, but his two seasons at Grambling haven’t produced any consistent progress. There’s a growing segment of Tigers fans lobbying for a change – and a second-straight loss in this weekend’s Bayou Classic, to a Southern team with an interim coach, could prompt it.
At ULM, there’s restlessness in the ranks. Ending his third season, Terry Bowden is 10-27. Early strides didn’t show up in back-to-back 4-8 marks, which won’t be matched this year. The Warhawks have tumbled nine straight times this season – competitively in overmatched contests earlier, recently, not much. Three Sun Belt losses by more than 30 points stand out more than two early wins, one over Army.
At least we have the Saints and Cowboys to count on, right?
Contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org