While search firms and athletic directors around the country scramble to vet potential football coaching candidates, there was no anxiety whatsoever at Northwestern State as Brad Laird was named head coach.
Thursday afternoon, in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the Friedman Student Union ballroom, Laird was officially introduced by NSU president Dr. Chris Maggio and veteran athletics director Greg Burke, who were both on staff in the Demons’ athletic department when Laird arrived on campus as a highly-accomplished true freshman quarterback in 1991.
Laird, 44, was announced last Monday as NSU’s new coach while the university was closed for Thanksgiving break. The Demons’ career passing leader, he went into coaching and graduated in 1996, then entered the high school ranks, working as an assistant under two Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame coaches, Don Shows and Pat Collins, and for his father, the late Billy Laird, in championship programs before returning to Northwestern in 2003 for the first of three stints as defensive coordinator.
“The right man, at the right time, at the right university,” said Maggio. “I’ve known Brad Laird since the first day he stepped on this campus, 20-plus years ago. He came here with a lot of fanfare, and he did not disappoint.
“I was so proud he chose to be a football coach, following in the footsteps of his dad, one of the greatest coaches we have ever had. I’ve seen it for many years. Brad Laird is a winner.”
He wasn’t in his debut as a Demon quarterback, however. Burke recalled a windy November 1991 day in San Marcos, Texas, when NSU’s greatest football coach, Sam Goodwin, reluctantly pulled Laird out of his redshirt freshman season when injuries decimated the lineup at quarterback. NSU was shut out as Laird was picked off three times in the first quarter.
“He came back from that, and became our career passing leader,” said Burke. “That single afternoon would have crushed a lot of young men, but it just stoked the fire in Brad Laird’s heart. He is an incredible competitor, and that’s why you see so many of his Demon teammates who have come from many miles away to be here for this day.”
Goodwin, his offensive coordinator Donnie Cox and about a dozen of Laird’s teammates were in Thursday’s crowd, savoring the moment. The new Demons’ coach marveled at his transition.
“This has come full circle, from back to that afternoon in 1991,” he said. “I didn’t throw an incomplete pass in pregame. I threw three interceptions in the first quarter. To say things have gotten a lot better in the last 26 years, to where I’m standing today, is an understatement.”
Dozens of current Demon players sat just behind their coach and his family during the introduction. Academic All-America candidate Chris Zirkle, a second-team All-Southland Conference offensive guard, told the crowd he and his teammates are laser-focused on the future with Laird setting the tone.
“He’s perfect for the job. He’s been in our shoes and you can tell what it meant to him, and what being back here means to him,” said Zirkle. “I wish we were still going right now, in the playoffs. I know with Coach Laird, we will be next year.”
While he’s patiently building his coaching staff, Laird is burning up the tires making rounds across the area recruiting new Demons. He’s enjoying the response.
“The commitment level we have right now, and the momentum we have going at this university, is unprecedented. It’s through the roof,” he said. “The last few days, going out recruiting, it’s easy to sell something you’re passionate for, that you have a love for, and you have people in charge who all have the same passion.”
Laird said a transformational experience was his stint in 2012 when he left the NSU coaching staff to become the university’s director of alumni and advancement. It intensified his passion for his alma mater.
“For too long, I thought there was nothing that existed outside that fieldhouse and Turpin Stadium. Here’s what I found out about Northwestern State University. They’re all in, that’s everybody, with the same goal, each building you walk in, to be the very best we can be, and that’s awesome,” he said. “You can recruit to that all day long.”
Laird didn’t spend time Thursday talking offensive or defensive schemes, or football philosophy. He presented a bigger vision.
“You’re going to be proud of the product we put on the field,” he said. “But it is more than those 11 Saturdays. We want to perfect and win each day, athletically, academically, socially, spiritually, because you combine all of those, doing it the very best you can, you’re going to win.
“It’s time to come together, as a family, to make our football program, and our university, better than ever. Our commitment as a football program is to not only meet expectations on and off the field, but to exceed them.”