Dean of coaches: Woodard now a rock in ever-changing league
Published 4:27 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2016
LAKE CHARLES — “I’m Ray Woodard, and I’m better known as Kade Harrington’s coach.”
That’s how Lamar’s seventh-year head football coach addressed himself Wednesday during the Southland Conference Media Day.
The introduction was a reflection of a season Harrington had last year and the offseason that followed, even without him having to play many snaps during spring drills. Aside from being a finalist for FCS Offensive Player of the Year, the city of Beaumont named a day in honor of the Southland Player of the Year, who led Football Championship Subdivision teams with 2,092 rushing yards.
“It’s definitely fun to acknowledge last season and what we accomplished,” Harrington said. “At this point, this Media Day, we’re putting all of that behind us and focusing on 2016 and what this new team has to bring. That’s our main goal going into camp.”
Woodard talked a little about his senior status in the league. Each member of the Southland has changed head coaches at least once since the almost 55-year-old was hired to relaunch the Cardinals’ football program in 2010.
“When I got this job, I wanted it to be the last job,” he said. “It’s just worked out. We are, in some way, a transition conference. Coaches are always moving up to the FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision].”
Woodard is the longest-tenured head coach at one school actively in the Southland Conference. Only one active coach has been in the conference longer, as Clint Conque is beginning his 10th season and third at Stephen F. Austin. (Conque previously coached Central Arkansas when it was a Division II school and transferred to Division I full-time in 2007.)
But since Woodard took over, every school in the Southland except LU has changed head coaches at least once.
Woodard has embraced the challenge of restarting a program in arguably the toughest league in the FCS. Former Lamar coach Larry Kennan and Vic Shealy can relate, having launched football at Incarnate Word and Houston Baptist, respectively, in the past five years.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Woodard said. “When you’re a startup program, you have a lot to sell. You’re going to be in the Southland Conference. To say you’re going to be a member of that gives you a lot of credibility. This is a tough conference to start up in.”
Lamar, which was 5-6 and 4-5 in the Southland last season, has posted one winning season under Woodard (8-4 in 2014). But senior offensive lineman Bret Treadway said the motivation for 2016 hasn’t changed from past years, and it goes beyond just winning six or more games.
“We’re all trying to make it into the playoffs,” he said.
If the Cardinals can break through this season, Woodard will probably credit a defense rejuvenated by first-year coordinator Trey Haverty, who previously worked at Texas Tech, and is blessed with depth despite only four returning starters.
“We have a lot of players back up front,” Woodard said. “I’m encouraged by what we’ve seen in the spring.”
For now, Lamar is going into the season ranked fourth in both the Southland coaches’ and sports information directors’ preseason polls. National semifinalist Sam Houston State, McNeese State and Central Arkansas, in order, rank first through third in both polls.
“It’s always good to see that other people think we’ll have an opportunity to be successful, but it’s not going to translate into what we do on the field,” Woodard said.
The Cardinals begin preseason camp at 7 p.m. on Aug. 4.
Treadway is looking forward to a rematch with Sam Houston State the most on Lamar’s schedule, but that’s the third game of the year. Lamar upset the eventual national semifinalist 49-46 last September in Huntsville for its first win there since 1959 and first over the Bearkats since 1989.
More importantly, it’s the first Southland game on both teams’ schedules. Lamar, though, will have two major tests ahead of that Sept. 17 contest in Beaumont, while all SHSU faces to start the season is Division II Oklahoma Panhandle State at home.
“I look forward to that first game,” Harrington game, referring to former FCS powerhouse Coastal Carolina visiting Lamar on Sept. 3.
The Chanticleers are transitioning to the FBS this season and will be a football member of the Sun Belt Conference starting in 2017. They were ranked as high as second during 2015 but fell to No. 16 after a first-round loss to The Citadel in the NCAA Division I playoffs to finish 9-3.
They are also coming off an emotional high of their baseball team’s improbable College World Series championship.
“It’s going to be a big us-against-them,” Harrington said. “We came together at camp. It’ll be good to see where we are right away.”
Oh, yeah, and then there’s a short road trip to the University of Houston on Sept. 10 for Lamar. Good thing Woodard talked Coastal Carolina into letting Lamar host.
“We were struggling to find an opening game and nobody would play them the first week,” he said. “We couldn’t open up with two games on the road. They had to come to our place because they had trouble finding anyone going to their place.”
I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews
**CLARIFIES Woodard’s length in the Southland Conference compared to other head coaches**