Who Could Have Been UL’s Football Coach?
Is the Louisiana Ragin' Cajun football program going to have a new head coach this week?
It's quite possible. And while the big story is going to be who actually is going to be the coach, the other part of the story is who won't be.
Most of you have heard the list of potential candidates being thrown around, including Penn St. defensive coordinator Brent Pry, LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada, Oklahoma St. offensive line coach Josh Henson, UTSA head coach Frank Wilson, former Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, UAB offensive coordinator Les Koenning, Washington St. defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, Grambling St. head coach Broderick Fobbs, Nicholls St. head coach Tim Rebowe, and ULM head coach Matt Viator, just to name a few.
Former LSU head coach Les Miles' name has even been mentioned.
But only one of these coaches, if it is indeed one of these coaches, can be named the new head coach of the Cajuns.
That doesn't mean that the university doesn't like more than one. They probably do. But they can only choose one.
That being said; I've decided to go back in time, over the last 37 years, and take a look at some of the coaches that the university passed over in past coaching searches.
There was no drama prior to the 1980 season, when then USL was looking to replace Augie Tammariello.
Sam Robertson was the guy. It was a done deal.
Robertson, who was defensive coordinator at Texas Tech from 1978-1979, held the same position with the Cajuns from 1974-1977, under Tammariello.
Again, there was no question that anybody other than Robertson was getting the job, and that was apparent when he kept Tammariello's entire coaching staff when he came aboard.
That's something you may never see again; a new head coach keeping all of the assistant coaches from the previous regime.
So, no surprise when Robertson took over, as he was the only coach for the job.
That wasn't the case in 1985, when Robertson wasn't retained, after going 29-34-2 over 6 years, and the head coaching position became open prior to the 1986 season.
Something some of the younger Cajun fans don't know; J.T. Curtis was a legitimate candidate for the opening at the time.
Yes, that J.T. Curtis! The longtime head coach of the John Curtis Patriots. The one that has 26 state championships to his credit. The one who is in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
As a matter of fact, I was told by reliable sources over the years that the university actually offered the job to Curtis, who was going to accept, but negotiations broke down, after big time Cajun football boosters objected to the program naming a high school coach, one without any collegiate experience, as the new head coach.
So, the university, who had told Clemson offensive coordinator, and former LSU quarterback Nelson Stokley, they were going with Curtis, called Stokley back the next day, and offered him the job.
Stokley had a nice run with the Cajuns, going 62-80-1 over 13 years, and was also athletic director for a time.
But think about how different things would have been/would be if Curtis would have been the coach.
There likely would not have been a Brian Mitchell, Jake Delhomme, or Brandon Stokley at the school, and John Curtis likely wouldn't have won all the prep titles that they did.
You could play the "What If?" game for days with this one!
Again, Stokley proved to be a good hire, despite things not ending well. with 1-10 and 2-9 records in his last two seasons.
Following the 1998 season, the Cajuns were again looking for a new football coach, and there was even more drama.
Dave Culley, who was the quarterbacks coach for the Cajuns from 1985-1988, was the guy that the university wanted.
Culley, who was just finishing up a stint as the wide receivers coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was offered the job, but turned it down, due to his retirement plan with the NFL.
Culley, who is still in the NFL to this day, as quarterbacks coach of the Buffalo Bills, probably made the right choice. With 24 years in the NFL under his belt, he's probably well set for life after football.
The second choice of the university in 1986 was Larry Blakeney, who Cajun fans are familiar with as the former head coach of the Troy Trojans.
Blakeney began coaching at Troy in 1991, when they were transitioning from Division II to Division I-AA, and had enormous success, guiding the Trojans to the playoffs seven times over eight years, before the school joined the Division I-A ranks in 2001.
A 2-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, Blakeney was the choice of many, but there were some concerns about possible NCAA violations at Troy, and the Cajuns backed off.
Current Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was a candidate in 1998.
Rodriguez, who was the offensive coordinator for an undefeated Tulane team in 1998, was thought to be a viable candidate for the Cajuns' coaching position, especially after Tommy Bowden left Tulane to go to Clemson, but the Green Wave passed over Rodriguez, in favor of Chris Scelfo, but nothing ever materialized.
Rodriguez, who was never offered the job, followed Bowden to Clemson as offensive coordinator, before becoming the head coach at West Virginia, and then Michigan, before his current job at Arizona.
With their top two choices, Culley and Blakeney, erased from the list of candidates, and the Rodriguez talk being more of that than anything else, the Cajuns turned to Jerry Baldwin, who was defensive line coach at LSU at the time.
Obviously, things didn't go as planned, as Baldwin went 6-27 in three years at the school.
That meant that Louisiana had to search for another coach prior to the 2002 season, and went with former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle.
Interestingly, Koenning, who is one of the names being mentioned in the current coaching search, was a candidate back in 1998, after a season as an assistant with the Rice Owls.
A former Cajun assistant in 1985, Koenning has since served as offensive coordinator of such programs as Alabama, Texas A&M, Mississippi St., South Alabama, and most recently, UAB.
Bustle turned out to be a pretty good hire, guiding the Cajuns to a winning 6-5 record just four years later.
In 9 seasons as head coach of Louisiana, Bustle compiled an overall record of 41-65, but had four seasons of 6 wins, of which his teams would be bowl-eligible, in this day and time.
Following a 3-9 season in 2010, Bustle was dismissed, and another coaching search was conducted.
The prime candidates were Mississippi St. passing game coordinator Mark Hudspeth, and Georgia Tech assistant Mike Sewak, with Matt Viator, the current ULM coach, who at the time was the McNesse St. head coach, also getting an interview.
To a lesser degree, the names of Alabama assistant coach Burton Burns and Oklahoma St. assistant Joe DeForest, a former Cajun player, also came up.
Hudspeth was the guy that the university wanted however, and that's who they hired.
It turned out to be a good hire, as Hudspeth guided the program to 5 bowl appearances in his 7 years, prior to being dismissed following a 5-7 season this year.
Sewak, who by all accounts was the runner-up for the job, is still with Georgia Tech, serving as offensive line coach.
So, somebody is going to get the job as the next head coach of the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, but most of the others won't.
Obviously, the most important thing will be how things will work out for the Louisiana football program, and the new head coach.
But it'll also be interesting to see how things pan out for those that don't get the job.