Jim Gazzolo column: Schroyer’s risk rewarded

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Swinging for the fences is in Heath Schroyer’s DNA.

It hasn’t always led to home runs, but that has never stopped the McNeese State athletic director from taking a full cut at the next pitch.

And while he is not always the most patient hitter, Schroyer is never afraid to go down swinging.

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But in his most recent at-bat, he hit the rare double home run.

By signing Will Wade to a new five-year contract for record dollars, Schroyer also gave himself the perfect insurance policy. The increased buyouts are a safe landing spot if, and when, Wade is poached by a larger school.

For McNeese, it is a win if Wade stays, win if he goes.

Wade is also a huge winner with the deal. While he easily could have played the waiting game and signed at a much bigger program for much larger bucks, this new contract is perfect.

It not only shows Wade is committed to McNeese but he now can pick and choose the right spot at the right time to make the move back to a power team.

Anybody who covered Will Wade at LSU, and now at McNeese, knows he has changed.

Perhaps it was what he went through before being fired in Baton Rouge and suspended by the NCAA over recruiting violations. It could be that time away from the bench last year showed him how much he loves the game.

Or maybe he’s just grown up a bit.

Either way, Lake Charles basketball fans have benefited.

Never before has McNeese basketball been more relevant, more talked about, and more financially stable than now. Winning on the court means winning off it as well and the athletic department’s accountants couldn’t be happier.

This may not make the rest of campus, or the educational purists feel good, but it is the facts of life. Sports matters at the college level. It’s just a matter of dollars and cents and common sense.

And Schroyer wants to keep the gravy training rolling.

“I wanted to make a statement on how committed this program is, this department is, this community is to continue to build on the success we are starting to have,” he said. “You just simply cannot put a price on what Coach Wade and his staff have meant to this community.

“I could not be happier today, could not be more excited where we are headed.”

McNeese is a far cry from back in the days of Burton Coliseum, where the cats often outnumbered the fans as basketball was little more than an intramural program.

Schroyer was brought here to turn a basketball program around, but what he could not do from the bench he has been able to accomplish from the executive chair.

With his partner Dr. Wade Rousse, who is the man behind the money, and the McNeese Athletic Foundation, not only have they maybe saved athletics at the university but made it financially sound.

“We are not robbing Peter to pay Paul, we are reinvesting back into the program,” said outgoing university president, Daryl Burckel.

That was reiterated by Rousse.

“This move was 100 percent funded by an increase in revenue from last year to this year,” Rousse explained. “We are healthier today than we were three years ago. This is an intentional decision to increase our brand.”

Schroyer said he isn’t done. He has a lot more to fix, but this is another step of McNeese leaving the kiddie table of athletics, hopefully for good.

This move may not sit well with the other athletic directors of the Southland Conference because the bar for coaches’ salaries has been raised.

“I have heard from a few people,” Schroyer said. “Every good story needs a villain, I’m fine with that.”

All his swings will not connect in the future like Wade, that is for sure.

However, one thing is clear when it comes to Schroyer: you know he won’t go down looking.

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