Lamar fires Woodard as head football coach

Published 11:44 pm Monday, November 21, 2016

BEAUMONT — Ray Woodard on Monday called a news conference at the Lamar football team meeting room to announce his own firing as the Cardinals’ head coach.

Woodard had been the Cardinals’ chief since the football program was relaunched for the 2010 season. The program was inactive from 1990-2009.

“I was very proud of what we accomplished through the years here,” Woodard said. “I thought we were ahead of schedule early on. I was proud that we went 8-4 in 2014. Going forward, the next step was for us to compete for conference championships and playoff spots. Though we competed, we came up well short the last two years. I have to bear the responsibility for that, so that being said, I don’t know if I completely agree with this decision, but I certainly respect it.”

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Lamar athletic director Jason Henderson, who did not attend the conference, made the decision to terminate Woodard, who said he was notified at 1:30 p.m. Monday. The development came two days after the Cardinals ended a 3-8 season with a 41-10 loss at archrival McNeese State, Lamar’s fifth defeat in a row.

Henderson and Woodard said no preliminary discussions concerning the latter’s job took place before Monday.

“First and foremost, I want to thank coach Woodard for all he’s done for the program in coming back and restarting it from scratch,” Henderson said in his office. “When he took over, we didn’t have a football or a building or anything else. … It’s never an easy decision, but I just felt that we needed to go in a different direction.”

Woodard, 55, said Monday he felt the decision would come soon, but dismissed any feelings about it when asked in previous weekly press meetings.

He thanked former Lamar President Jimmy Simmons and former athletic director Billy Tubbs for hiring him to lead the team’s relaunch. Woodard officially began his duties on May 19, 2008, after serving three seasons as Navarro College’s head coach.

The coach maintained his somewhat jovial personality during the conference. When Lamar sports information director James Dixon informed members of the media Woodard would not return for the 2017 season at the start of the meeting, the coach playfully added: “… or the ’18, or the ’19 season.

“You got to get better at this,” he joked to Dixon. Toward the end, Woodard added he hadn’t even told his mother about his firing.

Woodard said he notified players and assistant coaches afterward, many of whom could be seen leaving the Dauphin Athletic Center, where the Cardinals’ locker room and offices are located before the conference. None of the personnel gave looks indicating obvious disappointment over the firing.

Players were not available for comment Monday.

Woodard went 34-46 at Lamar, becoming the program’s third-winningest coach since it began competing as a senior college in 1951.

The 8-4 record two years ago is Lamar’s only winning mark since 1979, Larry Kennan’s first of three seasons at the helm. That ended on an Alex Ball field goal with no time remaining in a 27-24 upset win of perennial power McNeese State in Lake Charles.

The Cardinals could not capitalize on that success, however, on the scoreboard the next two seasons.

McNeese State won Lamar’s 2015 finale 20-14 to complete an unbeaten regular season and secure a 5-6 mark for the Cards. The campaign was not a total loss for the Cards; they beat then-No. 3 Sam Houston State 49-46 in Huntsville for the first time there since 1959 and first time in the rivalry since 1989, and then-junior running back Kade Harrington set a Southland Conference single-game record of 347 rushing yards against Abilene Christian en route to a conference-record 2,092 yards in the season and the league’s player of the year award. Harrington also was a finalist for the STATS FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) National Offensive Player of the Year award, the subdivision’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy, finishing second in voting to Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

Lamar expected to build on those accomplishments with a talented incoming class that included former New Mexico State quarterback Andrew Allen, former Port Neches-Groves quarterback Adam Morse and Nederland running back Austin Krautz. After blowing a first-half lead in a 38-14 home loss to Coastal Carolina to begin the 2016 season, Lamar also suffered a 42-0 shutout loss at the University of Houston and 44-31 home loss to Sam Houston State before getting on a three-game winning streak, beating Southeastern Louisiana (38-14) at home, Abilene Christian (38-10) there and Northwestern State (32-31) in a dramatic come-from-behind effort.

Injuries to several key players, including Harrington (torn foot muscle) and four quarterbacks prompted Morse and Krautz into action as true freshmen, but neither could help Lamar to victory. The Cards suffered a 22-12 loss at eventual Southland Conference runner-up Central Arkansas and dropped its next three games against teams that combined to average four wins this season: Houston Baptist (24-17) at home, Nicholls State (35-10) on the road and Incarnate Word (35-28) at home. Incarnate Word had just one win going into Lamar.

“I think the last few years we started off the season playing at a high level, and injuries have hurt us,” Woodard said. “We didn’t have the depth. We have to recruit more depth and do a better job of, when some of that experience is taken away, peeling down what we’re doing to where we could win with younger players. We didn’t do a good enough job of that the last two years when we lost players.”

The Cardinals’ lack of wins seemed to leave its local fan base disinterested in attending games throughout the season. The team failed to draw 10,000 fans to a single game in the 16,000-seat Provost Umphrey Stadium this year and suffered its lowest attendance since 2011 — 5,566 in the home finale against Incarnate Word.

Henderson did not single out attendance as a factor in his decision.

The program is in good shape despite not winning more games, Woodard said. Lamar recruited the third-ranked incoming class among Football Championship Subdivision teams (those with a limit of 63 scholarships who compete in NCAA Division I and vie for a spot in a national tournament as opposed to a bowl game, i.e., Sam Houston State and five-time defending champion North Dakota State), according to

Henderson said a national search to replace Woodard was launched immediately.

“Going forward, I only want good things for Lamar University,” Woodard said. “I want to see Dr. [and LU President Kenneth] Evans and [athletic director] Jason Henderson bring in a great coach who can get us to the next level. I want to see those three guys work together to build a fan base and money and everything that a president, an AD and a head coach has to do together to take it to the next level, because that’s what I want to see Lamar University do.”

Woodard spent most of his childhood in Lake Charles, where McNeese State is located, and finished high school at Corrigan-Camden High School. He played at Kilgore College from 1980-81 and at the University of Texas from 1982-83 before being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1984.

He spent five seasons with the Chargers, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, earning a trip to the Super Bowl with the John Elway-led Broncos in the 1986 season. Woodard began his coaching career at Kilgore College in 1988 and took on jobs in the minor professional ranks and and short stints as defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette and Navarro College before earning his first gig as a collegiate head coach at Navarro in 2007.

Woodard, who finished his bachelor’s degree at Sam Houston State in 1988, earned a master’s in education from UT-Tyler in 1991 and a doctorate in education from Lamar in 2014.

“I could go try to use that,” he said of the doctorate. “I obviously could go see what’s out there in the coaching world. I have my age and combination [of that and years working in public institutions] to where I can retire and go do something else in the private sector. I’ve got my daughter and grandson here to think about, so we’ve got a lot of decisions to make as a family, but they’re all good. … I’ve got a lot more positive decisions to make than I would have, say five or 10 years ago, so I’m very grateful and thankful to God for that.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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