Jim Gazzolo column: SLC’s loss, McNeese’s likely gain

Published 8:00 am Thursday, December 8, 2022

In one quick week Gary Golf went from Southland Conference newcomer to one of the old men on the block.

The McNeese State head football coach is still a couple weeks shy of his first full year in Lake Charles, yet he is rocketing up the league’s list of tenured leaders.

In a surprising development, Goff will have more coaches with less experience at their schools on the sidelines next fall than those with more.

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Goff will be the fourth-longest tenured head coach in the SLC when the league kicks off its 76th season next September, as all four of the Texas schools in the conference will have new head guys.

Of course, that is subject to change the way things are going in the league.

Three coaches were let go just days after the league wrapped up the regular season. While it wasn’t the bloody Monday the NFL experiences each year, it is a black eye to a league that struggled mightily outside its own confines.

Southland teams went 12-28 in nonconference games, with two teams, Northwestern State and Lamar, going 0-5. Only Incarnate Word was impressive at 5-0. Take away UIW and the league was 7-28. YIKES!

Southland not so strong.

But even in other down years the coaching carnage was never this bad. Sure, winning coaches moved on and maybe a struggling program would make a change … but three?

Lamar was first to pull the trigger, dumping Blaine Morgan just hours after his Cardinals lost to McNeese in the season finale. Morgan’s three years in Beaumont, Texas, produced five wins with one coming this fall.

So that makes sense.

A day after Morgan was let go, Vic Shealy resigned after a decade at Houston Christian, aka, the university formerly known as Houston Baptist.

Shealy was the league’s longest-tenured head coach and the only one the Huskies had ever known. He started the program in 2014 but won only 18 games while losing 75.

For those McNeese fans complaining about their Cowboys’ recent struggles, take notice: it could always be worse. Shealy’s teams won three of 22 games the last two seasons, finishing 2-9 this season.

Again, a move that is not a shock.

However, the news out Commerce, Texas, was a Lone Star shocker.

David Bailiff will not return to Texas-Commerce A&M after leading the team into its first year of Division I play. The two sides could not come to an agreement on a new contract despite Bailiff’s club finishing the season 5-6 overall and in fourth place in the league at 3-3.

A head-scratcher to say the least.

But the real story is that G.J. Kinne is leaving Incarnate Word for Texas State. The fact was not a stunner even if Kinne was in his job for only one year. The timing though …

News broke less than 48 hours before Kinne’s team played its first game in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs last week. Kinne is still with the Cardinals until their playoff run is finished.

I guess you can’t expect anything more from a program that has filled its roster late with a revolving-door policy of transfer portal players. Now the head coaching job is behaving the same way.

It is as if the world of college football has finally reached the Southland. Schools are showing that football matters and are making decisions to invest in the sport.

In a fight in which every student and every dollar matters, education folks are starting to look more and more to athletics as a way to gain both cash and young people to their campuses.

So winning matters and losing is going to cost you your job.

Lamar went so far as to go after a fellow league coach, Southeastern Louisiana’s Frank Scelfo. In the end Scelfo said he was staying in Hammond, America, and likely getting a new deal.

That’s just how the big boys play as well.

And you think there is stress around our holiday dinner table, wait until the SLC athletic directors break bread next.

All this could help McNeese, which has a chance to maybe sign some people while others are looking for their next head coach. It is quite a turnaround for the Cowboys who over the past few seasons have been the ones slowed in the recruiting process by instability.

What this all says about the Southland itself is hard to say. On one hand, it looks as if programs are starting to act like they care about winning and losing and are investing in football.

On the other hand, it looks like chaos.

In this chaos McNeese has an opportunity to jump-start its rebuild even more.

One program’s loss (four actually) could be the Cowboys’ gain.

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