Getting the Northwestern State football program back to championship status isn’t far fetched, new head coach Brad Laird insists.
It’s a task requiring more than good coaching, says veteran athletics director Greg Burke. But dominoes appear to be falling in place quickly since Laird’s hiring on Nov. 20.
The challenge might be daunting, if Laird, Burke, and not-new-to-NSU first-year president Dr. Chris Maggio didn’t know better.
The Demons haven’t been over .500 in a season since a 7-5 mark in 2008. If NSU was an FBS program, it would have been bowl-eligible in 2013 and 2014 with 6-6 marks, including a 2014 win at bowl-bound Louisiana Tech, but in the Football Championship Subdivision, it’s all about earning one of 24 playoff berths among the 123 contenders.
Not since 2004 have the Demons been involved in postseason. That playoff game, after NSU’s last Southland Conference championship, punctuated a run of five FCS playoff appearances in eight seasons between 1997-2004. NSU was 60-30 in that span, producing seven winning seasons, with Laird on Demon staffs just as it was starting and for three years at the end.
Laird was also on board last season, joining Jay Thomas’ last NSU staff as associate head coach and defensive coordinator. His influence restored a stingy tone to the Demons’ Purple Swarm defense, which allowed only 17 points per game in NSU’s three wins in the last four games of 2017.
Most importantly, in 11 months back on board, Laird got first-hand insight into not only the talent returning but all aspects of the program. Unlike nearly any other new coach, he isn’t learning as he goes, and he and the university and athletic leadership have a strong, doubt-free, pre-existing working relationship.
“The momentum at Northwestern State University, with the energy that comes from record enrollment and the reasons for it, is through the roof,” says Laird. “Combining the pieces of the puzzle that are in place now with the vision that Dr. Maggio and Mr. Burke have, the future is looking bright. From a football perspective, the completion of building a great staff combined with the positive feedback in recruiting, the opportunity for success is here.”
What’s unfolding demonstrates plenty of progress. Burke and Laird can fire off a steadily-growing list of promising developments, some at least partially sparked by the ascension of Maggio, a former high school football quarterback and offensive coordinator who ran, and then coached, track at NSU.
Addressing core needs of NSU’s student-athletes:
funding a third academic coordinator whose primary duties will involve extensive involvement with football the soon-to-be announced hiring of an assistant athletic director for Student-Athlete Development new nutrition center for competitors
football coaching salary pool back on par with the competition in state among Southland peers, which is beneficial for Laird as he rounds out his new staff, with former Trinity Valley Community College head coach Brad Smiley
rapid-fire push for architectural renderings of a new strength and conditioning center annex to the NSU Athletic Fieldhouse. Soon to follow will be upgrades to the Christmas Sports Medicine Center and the football equipment facilities, says Burke.
Now that the interior of Turpin Stadium is at least as impressive as any FCS facility in state or in the Southland Conference, Maggio and Burke are taking aim at enhancing the entrance for patrons on the press box side of the field.
Those initiatives, and more to come, are coalescing to energize insiders and supporters, and recruits.
The response among prospects has been obvious and immediate, confirms Laird, as the Demons have been collecting commitments while tapping into Louisiana high schools, especially in the 318 area code, with renewed fervor.