The Hud Era: A Helluva Ride – From the Bird’s Nest
I have never rejoiced over someone losing his/her job.
That doesn't mean I don't agree with the decisions that are made. It means I just don't think someone losing his/her job is a reason to have a party.
In the case of Mark Hudspeth, my feelings are the same. I said early last week that administrators don't fire coaches. Fans do. And, the fans had spoken through the lack of season ticket sales and attendance during the 2017 season. For those who follow the program closely, yesterday's announcement wasn't a shock.
In sports, it doesn't take long for fans to turn on coaches. And, for the most part, I get that, too. People have the right to spend their entertainment dollars however they wish. And, today, there are more venues for the entertainment dollar than ever before.
I understand the decision on Hud. That doesn't mean I'm happy today.
I feel for Hud personally. And, his wife Tyla. And his five children, all of whom are hurting today.
I also feel for his staff. That's the byproduct of firing a head coach. The reality is, none of them are assured they'll be back next year. In fact, the majority won't be. And, they aren't paid a million bucks a year. They have families too. And, there's no guarantee they'll find jobs in the field they love.
As we move into the transitional phase, it would do us good to remember and appreciate what Mark Hudspeth and his assistant coaches have brought to Cajuns football.
WE GOT "JUICED"--Remember when the announcement was made at the Indoor Practice Facility that the Cajuns were invited to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl for the first time? Remember the two or three nights in the Crescent City during Bowl Week. Do you remember how you felt when Brett Baer's kick went through the uprights. If you need a refresher course.....
Cajun fans had never had that feeling. And, for the next three seasons, fans got to experience it again and again. Because of the drama of the first game, perhaps the high wasn't quite the same. But it was there. Winning a 13th game with tens of thousands of your closest friends is a great feeling.
IT BECAME COOL TO BE CAJUN--Do you remember when you were ridiculed in your own town for wearing Cajuns gear? Do you remember when students at UL were more likely to wear someone else's colors rather than their own? Hud changed all that. It became hard to keep Cajuns' gear on the shelves. Stores that didn't carry gear in the past found it wasn't good business and stocked their shelves, some for the first time. And, ever since, you've seen more people wearing red in this city than ever before.
WE BUILT IT--I'm remember the first time I went through the new Academic Performance Center. I couldn't help but feel amazed that such a building could be a part of UL athletics. Everything...and I mean everything was state of the art. Without Mark Hudspeth, the wallets that helped to build that building may never have opened. Ditto the new restrooms, concession stands and seating at Cajun Field. There is still much to be done, facilities wise. But the success of the program led by Hudspeth made people want to be a part of this program...financially.
MUST SEE SATURDAYS--Cajun Field has never looked so good. Fans started buying tickets in advance for fear there might not be any on game day. There became a waiting list for tailgate and RV spots. Membership in the RCAF became mandatory to get parking spaces and a tailgating area. Check out the top 20 attendance figures in Cajun Field history. TEN of them came with Mark Hudspeth as head coach. And, with exception of 2017, at least one of those figures was hit each year of his tenure.
WHAT'S MY NAME? - It was a mantra of the first season. No one before or since has embraced the brand "Louisiana" like Mark Hudspeth. It started the first day when he was introduced as the Cajuns' head coach. And, it was a motivating tool for that magical first season. I don't think we'd be in the position we are in with branding (including merchandise) if not for Hud, who carried the Louisiana banner throughout his tenure.
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE--Not many Ragin' Cajuns make it to the NFL. And, therefore, the opportunity to get a degree is, and should be, very important. Hud stressed it. It was the part of his job most fans didn't notice. But the team GPA and the team graduation rate went up under Hud's tenure. And, while the wins ebbed and declined, graduation rates did not.
THE BAR GOT RESET--In the end, it wound up being Hud's undoing. But, right away, Hudspeth showed Cajun Nation it can,, in fact, happen here. Thirty-six wins in four years. Not since Russ Faulkinberry has a coach left having won more games on the field than he's lost. Mark Hudspeth showed we can win here. And, that winning should be something that's expected, not hoped for. And, that includes championships.
Now, we shall start anew. Much will be expected of the new coach and his staff. The fans will expect to win. They will expect to go bowling. They will expect to win the Sun Belt. They will expect to be positioned to be invited to another league.
And, they will have Mark Hudspeth to thank for it.