The Louisiana-Monroe team buses rolled back into campus around 2 a.m. Sunday, and thousands of fans were waiting to cheer.
The Warhawks had stunned eighth-ranked Arkansas 34-31 in overtime up in Little Rock, and who knows if the wheels on those buses went round and round. The Warhawks might have just floated back to Monroe.
“Tremendously rewarding for all of the staff to see the kids succeed,” said Warhawk coach Todd Berry, a good ol' 51-year-old Oklahoma boy who engineered the so-far upset of the season.
The next time you wonder about the benefits of big-time college football, think of that bus and that campus and that reception. Think of what a September Saturday night in Little Rock will mean to the Warhawks over the next 50 years.
All things considered, you don't want to coach a hyphenated school in major-college football. Alabama-Birmingham, Nevada-Las Vegas, Texas-San Antonio.
Sort of like coaching a directional school. Eastern Michigan. South Alabama. North Texas. Western Kentucky. Your job is to take a few beatings a year, cash a big paycheck and then go about your business in some backwater conference.
The hyphens and the directionals don't have opulent stadiums or pristine training facilities or robust travel budgets. But the hyphens and the directionals do have one thing going for them.
They still get to put 11 players on the field, and every once in awhile, on a magical Saturday, the little guy's slingshot finds its target.
And it's a high time to be a hyphen. Louisiana-Monroe. And now Louisiana-Lafayette comes to Stillwater, with a 2-0 record and still reveling in its first major-college bowl victory, 32-30 over San Diego State last December in the New Orleans Bowl.
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Mike Gundy says he seldom uses comparative motivation. “Look at what somebody did.”
But he's making an exception this week. Gundy, his team smarting from a beatdown at Arizona, says that with Louisiana-Lafayette on tap, he will remind his squad what Louisiana-Monroe did to Arkansas.
Chances are, the Cowboys will take out their frustration on the Ragin' Cajuns, with a score much like we saw in 2011 (61-34 in Stillwater) and 2010 (54-28).
But you never know. The P-word is getting tossed around college football a lot these days. Some say parity has arrived. And not for the reason you think.
The 85-scholarship limit, which distributes more good ballplayers to more schools, has been with us 18 years.
“I would probably take exception with some of the parity stuff,” Berry said Tuesday from his Monroe office, chatting just after he got off the phone with The New York Times. “We've been under that for a long time.
“I think the parity is coming from the diversity of systems. Teams' ability (or inability) to transition week in to week out. Everybody is so different on offense and defense.”
It's like Gundy has said for years. Even a major talent edge might not overcome a squishy gameplan. That's how Hal Mumme's and Mike Leach's offenses were such a stark success in the SEC and the Big 12, before they became common. How the option offenses of Georgia Tech and Navy are nightmares for a cursed defensive coordinator each week.
Another example: Louisiana-Monroe employs a 3-3-5 defense, which few teams use. Watch out Sooners; OU hosts Louisiana-Monroe in the 2013 season opener.
“We're certainly a difficult team to prepare for,” Berry said. “We know we have some advantages. We just have to find them. It's not because we have a Heisman Trophy winner. It's because we're different.”
Louisiana-Lafayette runs the quarterback run/shotgun option offense similar to Arizona's, so at least the Cowboys have seen what the Cajuns will do.
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Todd Berry grew up in Miami, Steve Owens' hometown in the northeast corner of Oklahoma. He went to the University of Tulsa and was a backup quarterback under head coach John Cooper and offensive coordinator Larry Coker.
“I loved growing up in Oklahoma,” Berry said. “It's just something about the people, in terms of the work ethic. You cared for your neighbor. I have more appreciation for that now, because of all the different places I've lived.”
Berry, 51, is accustomed to coaching where winning doesn't come easy.
He's been an assistant coach at Tennessee-Martin, Mississippi State, Southeast Missouri State, East Carolina, Louisiana-Monroe, Miami and UNLV. He was an OSU graduate assistant for Pat Jones in 1985.
He's been head coach at Illinois State, which hadn't won more than six games a year in a quarter century but went to the I-AA playoffs the last two of his four seasons, and then at Army, where he was fired after 3½ seasons and a 5-35 record.
Berry's first two seasons at Monroe produced 5-7 and 4-8 records, but now he's got a victory over Arkansas on his belt and The New York Times calling.
“We don't have all the amenities that a lot of people have,” Berry said. “But we have a lot of people that care. It's not just a team victory. There's a lot of people here that go above and beyond in their willingness to help.”
Berry wasn't sure he wanted to be a coach. But Cooper and Coker, who went on to be big winners as head coaches at Ohio State and Miami, respectively, convinced him to give it a try.
“I wanted to be like them,” Berry said. “My experiences at Tulsa were phenomenal because of the people I was around. People make places special more than anything else.
“I learned so many things from being a collegiate athlete. One of the great life lessons, if every time you think you can't take another step, you do.
“I think that's what happened last Saturday for us.”
The Warhawks trailed Arkansas 28-7. “We kept pushing, kept taking another step, taking another step,” Berry said. “That's a great life lesson.”
Beware, OSU. Another Louisiana hyphen's coming to town.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Louisiana comparisons Comparing the football programs of Louisiana-Monroe, which upset eighth-ranked Arkansas last week, and Louisiana-Lafayette, which plays at OSU this Saturday. ULM, Category, ULL, 8,405, Enrollment, 16,885 1931, Established, 1898 174,086, Metro population, 263,171 Tim McGraw, Famous alum, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Northeast Louisiana, Previous name, Southwestern Louisiana Todd Berry (3rd year, 10-15), Football coach, Mark Hudspeth (2nd year, 11-4) 1975-81, 1994, Joined Division I-A , 1974 0, Bowl games, 1 279-367-8, All-time record, 486-515-31 30,427, Stadium capacity, 31,000 Alabama 2007, Notable victory, Texas A&M 1996 Sixth, 2011 Sun Belt Conference place, Third Sixth, 2012 Sun Belt projection, Third Stan Humphries, Super Bowl quarterback, Jake Delhomme