Jim Gazzolo column: Hire shows McNeese all in

Published 11:45 am Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Heath Schroyer’s Hail Mary play could end up being a grand slam for McNeese State.

Schroyer shoved all his chips into the center of the table once again when he hired former LSU head coach Will Wade to lead the Cowboys basketball program.

Showing he is not afraid to go after the big fish, even if the pond he’s swimming in is a little polluted, the McNeese athletic director put on a full-court press and got Wade and his baggage.

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This is a possible deal maker for a program desperate for attention.

Yes, it is a little dirty with all that surrounded Wade’s exit from Baton Rouge a year ago and the still pending NCAA decision into recruiting violations. But so what? Nobody is clean in college athletics.

You want that, go to Division III.

As for Cowboys fans, they will do what all fans do, say yes, he might be a cheater, but he’s our cheater, and celebrate all the wins.

This is the latest example of Schroyer setting the bar higher than ever before at McNeese.

“It is time for McNeese to reach its potential,” Schroyer said.

That statement is arrogant but correct. Why in the world would McNeese take a back seat to places like Lafayette and Monroe? It’s crazy not to think big.

“You can’t bunt your way to success, you have to swing the bat,” Schroyer said.

If that is your philosophy then getting Wade is the perfect move. Really, it’s the only move.

Basketball has never mattered at McNeese. Suddenly one can argue the Cowboys have the biggest name in the state when it comes to college hoops, even if it’s a little tainted.

The fact that Louisiana-Lafayette fans are losing their minds over it only makes the move that much more enjoyable.

Schroyer has made the new basketball coaching staff the highest paid in the Southland Conference just a little more than a year after awarding the largest football contract in school history.

All this while also putting the athletic department in the black. A pretty good lesson in real-life economics for the professors on campus to teach.

“McNeese is a sleeping giant,” Schroyer said. “And the giant has just awakened.”

For far too long Mcneese and its officials have been asleep at the wheel as the rest of college athletics have raced past. That is no longer the case.

Will Wade brings national attention, both good and bad, with him to Lake Charles. He has won everywhere he has gone and will likely do the same at McNeese.

Already the move is paying off. Season ticket sales were up Monday and the Platinum Club added 61 members by 5 p.m. before the group conducted a meeting with the new coach. By week’s end those numbers could be up much more.

“We will be a successful program here,” Wade said. “We will fill the seats and we will win.”

That’s what fans want to hear.

Don’t get this wrong, Will Wade is not the long-term answer to Cowboys hoops hopes. He is not retiring from McNeese.

He could, however, start something in terms of a basketball revival. This is what has the rest of the Southland worried.

The other league coaches know that with the right leadership McNeese could become that giant. The facilities are the best and even finishing in eighth place the Cowboys had the most fans at basketball games.

The question should not be why is McNeese doing this but rather why has it taken it so long?

With the goal moving up to football’s top division as the ultimate goal, getting Wade is another step in that direction.

You just have to wonder if Schroyer will be around long enough to see it all happen.

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