Jim Gazzolo column: Cowboys embrace black hat

Published 12:24 pm Thursday, October 26, 2023

If you are going to be the bad guy you might as well embrace it.

Already not popular when it comes to the Southland Conference for roping in all the championship tournaments for the foreseeable future, McNeese State decided to go all in when it comes to a marketing plan for this year’s men’s basketball team.

In order to promote Will Wade’s first season as a Cowboy, the athletic department dressed the former LSU head coach in a full outlaw outfit right down to the black hat.

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It is a perfect fit for the man the NCAA considers college basketball’s bad boy of coaching.

Wade will miss the first 10 games of the season after being suspended by the NCAA for events that took place while he was at LSU.

While that might make him public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of the NCAA and some fans, it is one of the reasons he is loved by others, including newly named Cowboys faithful who before Wade rode into town knew nothing about college basketball.

They have seen the light and have embraced what is being called by McNeese people as Wade’s World.

As for Wade himself, he seems perfectly fine wearing college basketball’s black hat.

He even posed for what will surely be posters of himself in full outlaw gear. McNeese marketers even went so far as to promote him as Willy the Kid, making sure the fans and detractors knew exactly what point they were trying to make as if the picture alone didn’t do that.

Adding to the fun is the marketing name for the team this fall, The Bayou Bandits.

Willy the Kid and the Bayou Bandits recently went full Cowboy mode during a preseason photo shoot at the Broken Branch Saloon in Dry Creek.

You get the feeling that Wade’s picture may show up somewhere at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis with the word WANTED in capital letters above his photo. I don’t think dead or alive will follow, but maybe suspended or unsuspended?

“People think what they think so you might as well embrace it,” Wade said. “We are not going to be changing anybody’s minds.

“It really goes perfectly with our Cowboy nickname theme.”

Wade said he meets with a group to discuss marketing and selling the program, like he did while he was at LSU. They have come up with all sorts of ideas, though this one was thought up by Athletic Director Heath Schroyer.

“You have to embrace who you are,” said Schroyer, who claims he came up with the idea and isn’t worried about any repercussions.

“It is just a marketing tool. I trust Coach Wade and believe in him.”

Since Wade rode into town, selling McNeese basketball tickets hasn’t been a problem. The suites above the home court are all gone. There is a record number of newcomers joining the booster club and the brand-new 30-floor seats are all sold as well.

All this probably makes the NCAA uncomfortable, which just adds to the fun all things considered. If nothing else, the marketing plan is a win for McNeese no matter what the governing body of college sports believes.

It could become more than just a local story. Wade has a way of bringing attention to whatever he gets involved in, no matter what side of the corral you are riding on.

After years of playing in front of small crowds and with little interest, McNeese basketball is suddenly becoming the top sport on campus. Using creative ways to get that point across is not a bad thing.

If you happen to poke fun at the big, bad NCAA, then that seems to make it even that much more of a good thing.

In this case, for the Cowboys, it seems good to be bad.

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