The Port Arthur News
Nobody was saying much of anything about Lamar University football coach Ray Woodard’s job status on Monday, leaving open the possibility that the Cardinal coach will be left twisting in the wind until after the Thanksgiving holidays.
“I’ve haven’t been told anything,” said Woodard. “I’ve asked but I haven’t gotten any answers. I’m not sure what to think.”
Because of the uncertainty about his future at Lamar, Woodard canceled his usual 2 p.m. Monday press conference. He did go through with his final Sunday night television show on KFDM, but his body language during the show suggested the uncertainty of the situation made doing the show difficult for him.
Woodard’s job security was first raised publicly in this writer’s Sunday column. A trusted Port Arthur News source said that the McNeese State game would probably be his last as LU’s coach, that a decision had either been made to replace him, or was close to being made.
A Monday afternoon call to Lamar athletic director Jason Henderson seeking comment has not been returned. Woodard, whose salary is $150,000, is under contract through August of 2015, meaning a payoff would be involved, unless he took another job.
Woodard, who was hired in 2008 to help restart the LU program from scratch, posted an 18-28 record in four seasons. The Cardinals narrowly missed a break-even 2013 when McNeese State scored the winning points with 58 seconds left Saturday night. The Cardinals finished 5-7 overall, including 2-5 in the Southland Conference.
It’s not difficult to argue that what Lamar accomplished in 2013 shows significant progress is being made. Playing in perhaps the toughest of the FCS conferences, one which had three teams — No. 6 McNeese, No. 7 Southeastern Louisiana and No. 14 Sam Houston — ranked in the final poll, and another, Central Arkansas, receiving votes, the Cardinals were in nearly every game until the end.
The SLC is so highly regarded for its toughness and depth, in fact, that McNeese, SLU and Sam Houston are in the FCS playoffs, and two of the three even have byes.
Only one of Lamar’s five SLC losses was anything close to a blowout — a 56-34 setback at champion Southeastern Louisiana. The Cardinals played Sam Houston State on even terms before dropping a 14-3 decision in Huntsville and went to the wire before falling to Central Arkansas (26-24) and McNeese (42-38). They also beat Stephen F. Austin for the first time since the program restart.
“We were competitive in every conference game,” said Woodard. “In the fourth year of the program, we proved we’re on a level with everybody in our league. If we’d held on against McNeese Saturday night, we’d have been 5-1 at home. That would have been the best in Lamar history. We set numerous offensive records.
“The program is clearly on the upswing. We’ve got eight offensive starters coming back. We’ll have to do some retooling on defense, but we played a lot of young players on that side of the ball this year. I feel confident that we’ll be improved on defense.”
Perhaps the best way to underscore how far Lamar has come in a short time is to look at the beatings the Cardinals took from conference foes in the early years of the restart. They were drubbed 66-0 and 56-7 by Sam Houston in 2011 and 2012, respectively. SFA drowned Lamar 71-3 in 2010 and 69-10 in 2011. As was pointed out above, the Cardinals defeated SFA this season and were in position to upend Sam Houston.
Strongly supporting the notion that Woodard deserves more time is one of the school’s major donors — Beaumont attorney Walter Umprhey.
“I think talking about a change at this time is premature,” said Umphrey, who has donated some $10 million to Lamar, and whose name is on the stadium. “For having started from scratch, and I’m not sure a lot of people understand how difficult that is, I think Ray’s done a great job. Those last two games against Stephen F. Austin and McNeese State show how far the program has come.
“I’ve expressed my admiration for the job Ray has done to the new president (Dr. Kenneth R. Evans) several times.”
The Port Arthur News source said one of the reasons for unhappiness with Woodard was lack of interest in the program, as reflected in average attendance of 8,379. The largest crowd of the season was 10,738 for homecoming against Central Arkansas. An even bigger concern than overall attendance was said to be student ambivalence toward Lamar football.
How much of that falls on the head coach, of course, is debatable. Some would argue that putting an exciting and successful product on the field is Job. 1. Few would contend that the latest Cardinal team wasn’t exciting. And they were agonizingly close to being successful.