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Hobbs Column: Hemphill can sell McNeese

Last Modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 10:10 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Evidently, McNeese State has been living right these days.

Or maybe with all the problems facing athletic departments at McNeese’s level these days, the Cowboys were just due a break.

A little more than a month since losing a rising star, Tommy McClelland as athletic director, McNeese had Bruce Hemphill fall in its lap to take over the department.

McNeese President Philip Williams asked for feedback after Hemphill was the first (and, it turned out, the only) candidate interviewed in person.

Williams got responses like:

“Best candidate possible — please hire him.”

“Just hire the man.”

“Don’t look back.”

“What are we waiting for?”

You can almost imagine a search committee with its collective jaw dropping, wondering where the catch is, where’s the fine print?

He’s worked on coaching staffs or athletic departments from South Carolina, N.C. State, Wyoming, was a heartbeat away from the athletic directorship at North Carolina during a 10-year stint.

If anything, the search committee must have wondered if he was overqualified.

What’s he doing here?

How did they get so lucky?

McNeese, for the first time in its history, took the radical step of hiring an athletic director from outside its own department, and didn’t blink twice about it.

Most of the hires turned out pretty well. The department has chugged along fairly well.

And yet it’s refreshing to see the school open, even eager, to bring in a new face, to get some new blood with fresh and different ideas.

And you not only get new blood, new ideas, you get somebody very familiar with the program, a Sulphur native who grew up attending McNeese sporting events before playing four years at LSU, then setting off for far horizons to earn a sterling reputation in athletic administration.

You just wonder how McNeese got so lucky.

It took a perfect storm.

Hemphill always knew he’d be coming back to the Lake Area one day, but the timetable was accelerated a year ago when his younger brother passed away. Hemphill really felt like he needed to get back home now to be closer to his mother.

Fortunately, he had 20 years in North Carolina’s education retirement system. It allowed him to come home and pick and choose his jobs, but not to consider retirement.

He’d already inquired at McNeese when McClelland was still around, seeing if there was something in the department he could do.

Nothing turned up.

“I never wanted Tommy to leave,” he said. “But I always knew if he did, I’d be very interested.”

So there he was, being prepped for back surgery when he got the word in early July that McClelland was leaving to take the job at Louisiana Tech.

He wondered if he ought to cancel the surgery but went through with it. That night, from the hospital bed, he was already making notes about what he ought to do in applying for “my dream job.”

“Thank goodness I had an epidural (shot),” he said.

His pain was McNeese’s gain, a windfall.

There’s a whole new dynamic here.

Now it’s up to the school to take advantage of it.

For lack of a better word, there is off-the-charts charisma about him.

You could compare the charm to Texas head coach Mack Brown, whom Hemphill worked with at North Carolina (Brown was among the Hemphill fans weighing in Thursday on what a great hire it was for McNeese).

Hemphill’s energy knocked the socks off the news conference Thursday When it was over, all the McNeese coaches on hand seemed to have a little extra bounce in their step. Same for the boosters.

Hemphill isn’t going to snap his fingers and make all of McNeese’s challenges go away.

But this can be more than the leader of a department. This can be a weapon for the school.

Hemphill is not a bureaucrat athletic director who needs to be bunkered in and buried under paperwork for 12 hours a day.

Oh, he’ll get that grunt work done.

But any way you look at it, McNeese got a gift horse here. The question now isn’t so much what he can do for the athletic department, but how the department — the whole school, for that matter — can use him most effectively?

This is like a football team suddenly getting that perfect dual-threat quarterback. You don’t run the same old stuff, you mold yourself to take advantage of the new talents.

So use him.

Transfer that energy and charisma out beyond the school gates.

Others need to be exposed to the way he stunned the search committee, the way he massaged the introductory news conference and had it in the palm of his hands.

This is the guy to get people talking about McNeese, a perfect point man for the various coaches to get people excited about the Cowboys.

Don’t miss any opportunity.

Get him out there, and not just around town.

This is the kind of spokesman you want on for halftime interviews, talking up the program whenever McNeese gets on television.

But not just here. Don’t waste an opportunity for Hemphill to get all throughout the state, getting McNeese’s name out there.

Hemphill said he was ready to “hit the ground listening.”

Good line. But McNeese needs to make sure he never misses a microphone either.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at

Posted By: Bob On: 8/16/2013

Title: Great Hire

Bruce will soar

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