Jim Gazzolo column: Cowboys have a lot to fix before thinking of future

Published 5:00 am Monday, November 22, 2021

As the final seconds ran off the clock in Cowboy Stadium Saturday, those remaining slowly walked to their cars grumbling.

Very few were around in 1988 when McNeese last lost to Northwestern State in Lake Charles. Fewer expected to see it again.

Hoping to enter the offseason on a high note, the Cowboys did the exact opposite.

Forget talk of changing leagues, moving divisions and playing on the FBS level, for now the Cowboys have enough to worry about right in front of them.

And they have a lot to fix.

Any talk of improvement or trending in the right direction came to a screeching halt when Northwestern State pulled off the shocker, 24-20, sending Frank Wilson and his staff back to the drawing board.

The Pokes were beaten by a team whose only other wins this year came against Houston Baptist. That can’t happen.

Worse yet was the way McNeese lost. The Cowboys admitted they were not “focused.” They said they took the Demons too lightly. Four-win teams should take nobody lightly.

So while there is a lot of hope for the future, right now there needs to be a major clean up on aisle 5.

All that is wrong with the Cowboys was on display Saturday. It was a mess from beginning to end.

It started with the biggest of issues, a Senior Day that was highlighted by the number of players honored before the game. There were only eight.

Of those eight, five didn’t play for the program before the double hurricanes in 2020. Shockingly, only one player, quarterback Cody Orgeron, never played for another school. One Cowboy from start to finish. That’s not how you build a program.

Fingers will be pointed, excuses will be made, but none of that will fix the issues facing this team today.

You can blame storms, pandemic and all the rest, but truth is this began because of the academic troubles of 2015-2018. When the playoffs were taken away, the players went with it.

The rest is just piling on.

What has remained is a young, inexperienced team that lacked in talent and could not overcome any miscues. Chemistry can’t be built on the fly and experience can’t be built on the practice field.

Now comes the real work. Fixing what is broken.

Because of what took place before his arrival, Wilson enters the most important offseason in program history. All eyes will be on the rebuilding process.

“We have to fix this and we have to fix this fast,” said Wilson.

Getting talent to town is key. Getting the talent here to stay might be more important.

The cupboard is not bare, but there is room on all shelves for more. And the group here must get better.

Wilson, who has been in town since Jan. 2020, finally gets a full offseason. He needs it.

Whether it is warranted or not the pressure is on. After 16 straight winning seasons, McNeese posted a pair of losing ones in 2021 alone.

A 3-4 spring was followed by a 4-7 fall. That’s not growth. A third straight losing campaign in a further watered down Southland Conference can’t happen.

And while this may also be unfair, it is true; if McNeese wants to be invited to an FBS league it can’t lose to Northwestern State.

If you want to be the leader of the Southland you can’t lose to Northwestern State.

If you want to be relevant you can’t lose to Northwestern State.

That’s nothing against the Demons, who came to town with a chip on their shoulders just when the Cowboys firmly put the target on their backs with talking of leaving the league behind.

So now all the wiggle room is gone for McNeese. It is time to recruit, rebuild and refocus.

Wilson is considered a great recruiter and this will be likely his toughest test.

He has to make sure the loss to the Demons marks the end of a nightmarish stretch in Cowboy history, not the beginning of a new normal.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com