Football: Hudspeth working on coaching staff this week
UL coach Mark Hudspeth is in Nashville this week hoping to identify an assistant coach he can bring back to Lafayette.
He’ll be conducting interviews with prospective candidates while attending the American Football Coaches Association’s annual convention, which opened Sunday night and runs through Wednesday.
By the time he leaves, Hudspeth may also know whether or not he needs to add more than one new assistant.
Sometime soon, the Cajun coach furthermore must make a call on whether or not first-year offensive coordinator Jorge Munoz will remain in the same position for 2017.
The Ragin’ Cajuns currently have one staff opening, a vacancy created when defensive coordinator Melvin Smith was fired one day after a 2016 season-opening 45-10 loss to Boise State.
Smith, who also coached Cajun cornerbacks, was replaced as d-coordinator – first on an interim basis, and later in a full-time capacity – by linebackers coach Mike Lucas.
Charlie Harbison, who had been coaching safeties as well as serving as co-defensive coordinator, assumed Smith’s duties working with cornerbacks and assumed the new title of defensive backs coach after Smith was fired.
Lionel Stokes, an ex-Cajuns defensive back who had been working first as a graduate assistant coach and later as a defensive analyst since concluding his UL playing career, also took over as outside linebackers coach on an interim basis.
But Stokes is not a candidate for the full-time assistant’s vacancy, Hudspeth said.
The precise duties of the new hire remains to be seen, according to Hudspeth.
“I’m trying to figure out that spot,” he said before leaving for Nashville.
“Still working on the parameters of where we feel like we want to plug him in, considering Cheese (Harbison) did the entire back end (last) year.”
Hudspeth said he “probably will end up taking the best fit, the best overall available coach.”
As for the rest of his staff, Hudspeth said “everything is status quo as of now.”
But that could change during or soon after the convention, which in addition to hosting a series of coaching workshops and lectures also serves as a job fair for coaches either seeking employment or pursuing a job at a new program.
UL’s other current assistants are Mitch Rodrigue (offensive line), Reed Stringer (tight ends), Marquase Lovings (running backs), Michael Desormeaux (receivers) and Levorn Harbin (defensive line).
Rodrigue, Stringer and Lovings have all been on Hudspeth’s UL staff since he took over as Cajuns head coach prior to the 2011 season.
Harbin came to UL from Auburn, where after he was a defensive line analyst and where Smith and Harbison – who was the Tigers’ co-defensive coordinator – also worked before fired.
All three joined the Cajuns’ staff prior to the 2015 season.
Asked if there’s a possibility he will lose a current assistant, or more, at the convention, Hudspeth said, “I can’t say.”
Hudspeth elevated Lucas, who also joined the staff in 2015, to full-time defensive coordinator during the week prior to 6-7 UL’s Dec. 17 New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Mississippi.
Lucas took over a Cajun defense that struggled under Smith, a longtime SEC assistant coach who was dismissed quite early in his second season as UL’s defense coordinator.
Over the next 12 games including the bowl the former Southeastern Louisiana head coach turned UL’s defense into one that finished 2016 allowing 379.1 yards per game (43rd-best nationally) and only 129.2 rushing yards per game (24th-best nationally).
On offense, however, Hudspeth still has not committed to an offensive coordinator for next season.
Asked if Munoz would continue as UL’s o-coordinator, Hudspeth said a few days ago that he was “still in the evaluation process.”
“Everybody is being evaluated right now,” he said at the time.
UL averaged 357.2 yards per game (108th among 128 FBS teams nationally) and just 23.6 points per game (109th nationally in scoring offense) in 2016.
Before promoted to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to replace Jay Johnson, who left UL for the same position at Minnesota followed the 2015 season, Munoz served as UL’s receivers coach.
Desormeaux, an ex-Cajuns quarterback and former head coach at Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, filled Munoz’s former post as UL receivers coach in 2016.
Munoz also worked for three seasons from 2008-10 as a UL offensive assistant under former Cajuns head coach Rickey Bustle.