For a program that has never made a bowl game, bringing in a new coach with proven experience and a proven track record as someone in charge became vitally important.
Mississippi State assistant Mark Hudspeth fits those qualifications. Now we'll see whether he can win at Louisiana. Hudspeth was introduced as the head coach Monday, taking over for Rickey Bustle, who spent nine seasons with the program but could never get his team into a bowl game despite going .500 or better four times. Bustle had never been a head coach before taking the job at Louisiana.
Hudspeth, meanwhile, spent seven seasons at Division II North Alabama, where he went 66-21 with five NCAA playoff appearances before joining the Bulldogs staff. He hopes to recreate that success in Lafayette.
"It was our goal to hire a football coach that had experience as a head coach," said senior associate athletics director Scott Farmer. "We thought that was very important. We thought that the coach must understand the pressures and demands of this position."
Hudspeth will not coach in in the Gator Bowl against Michigan, instead turning his efforts to recruiting and reshaping the program. Saying his team had "no idea what's in store," Hudspeth vowed to work hard to bring a winning tradition to the school. Louisiana is one of three FBS teams that has never made a bowl game, and the Ragin' Cajuns are coming off a 3-9 season.
“Just changing the name on the head coach's door doesn’t do it," Hudspeth said. "It takes a total commitment. I really feel like we got that today.
"My motto is: 'The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack.' I know at the top of the entire pack is (President Joseph) Savoie, who is setting the pace. He’s that lead sled dog. I want to be the lead sled dog for the entire program. You’re program is only going to run as fast as that lead sled dog out front. We are going to out-work everybody. We are going to out-recruit everybody and do all that we can every day to make our program the best it can be.”
What will help is a commitment to winning. Though contract details were not released, Hudspeth got a significant bump in pay over Bustle. The budgets for assistant coaching salaries and recruiting were also increased, putting them atop the Sun Belt, according to athletic director David Walker.
“The key is that this can’t be a one-person show," Hudspeth said. "My whole job is getting everybody doing their job. Everything we do has to be done with excellence. We’ve got to raise money because everything related to that affects our program. Hopefully, I can raise that level in every department in taking that step in becoming Sun Belt Conference champions.”