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Oklahoma football: Should Josh Heupel have gone to Louisiana Tech?

by Berry Tramel Published: December 12, 2012

OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel turned down the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech, according to reports, and to each his own. We sometimes analyze these job jumpings based on everything but the human factor. We look at money and history and winability and future job prospects. But sometimes we forget the individuals involved. Sometimes, a guy really wants to leave a place, or sometimes a guy really wants to stay in a place.

Josh Heupel talks with Blake Bell during the first day of spring practice at the University of Oklahoma in Norman on Monday, March 21, 2011. Photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman

So no one can say that Heupel made the right move or the wrong move. But we can analyze the Louisiana Tech job as it relates to other jobs. Especially in a week in which OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken took the head coaching job at Southern Mississippi, which in many ways is similar to Louisiana Tech’s.

And clearly, Louisiana Tech is a launching pad job. The last two La Tech coaches, Derek Dooley and Sonny Dykes, have gone on to solid jobs in major conferences — Dooley to Tennessee (since fired) and Dykes to California. The fact that Dooley and Dykes are sons of iconic coaches (Vince Dooley coached Georgia for 25 years, 1964-88, and Spike Dykes coached Texas Tech for 13 years (1987-99) is interesting but not all that relevant. Dooley and Dykes might have gotten the Louisiana Tech gig with help from their last name, but that shouldn’t have helped Dooley much at Tennessee and didn’t help Dykes at all at Cal. And in the 1980s, Ole Miss hired away Billy Brewer from Louisiana Tech.

One of the downsides to Louisiana Tech has been its conference affiliation — the Bulldogs have been in the Western Athletic Conference, with the likes of New Mexico State and San Jose State. It made no sense at all. The conference realignment anarchy has been good for La Tech — the Bulldogs are moving to Conference USA, which is transitioning into a southern mid-major league.

The WAC was one of the reasons Louisiana Tech was snubbed by the bowl games this season, despite a 9-3 record. Of the 25 mid-majors who were bowl eligible, La Tech easily was among the top five in terms of 2012 performance. The Bulldogs at one point were ranked and threatening to contend for the Orange Bowl bid that Northern Illinois eventually received.

Of course, Louisiana Tech athletic director Bruce Van de Velde, a former assistant at OU, slow-played the Independence Bowl, which took its invitation elsewhere. So there’s plenty of blame to go around. Now Van De Velde is in hot water, and there’s no way to be assured that the man who hires you will be around long, which is never a good thing.

Louisiana Tech is like most mid-majors, Southern Miss included. Money is in short supply. You won’t find the amenities that Heupel is accustomed to in Norman and Monken is accustomed to in Stillwater.

La Tech is located in Ruston, La., population 21,859. But it’s fertile recruiting ground, less than 100 miles from the Texas line, and East Texas is loaded with ballplayers. Southern Miss is in Hattiesburg, Miss., population 45,989. Hattiesburg, too, has players in every direction except south, where the Gulf of Mexico makes it hard for football players to get their footing.

La Tech plays in Joe Aillet Stadium, capacity 30,600. But the Bulldogs occasionally play over in Shreveport, about 45 minutes away. Louisiana Tech beat OSU in Shreveport in 2002. Southern Miss plays in M.M. Roberts Stadium, capacity 36,000.

Louisiana Tech has not been the consistent winner that Southern Miss has. La Tech’s record the last 10 years, going backward: 9-3, 8-5, 5-7, 4-8, 8-5, 5-7, 3-10, 7-4, 6-6, 5-7. Southern’s record has been much more consistent, before the disastrous 0-12 season just concluded: 0-12, 12-2, 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, 9-5, 7-5, 7-5, 9-4.

Both have iconic alums — Brett Favre’s allegiance to Southern Miss is well-known. Louisiana Tech produced Terry Bradshaw.

As mid-major jobs go, these are two good ones. Places you can win, which mean places you can get out of.

If Josh Heupel’s professional goal was to become a head coach at a major school where you can win big, Louisiana Tech would have been an excellent place to start. But if Heupel’s goal is to become the head coach at OU, maybe he would be better off staying in Norman. Whenever Bob Stoops leaves or retires, the odds of Heupel being promoted to the job are greater than Heupel being brought back.

Since Jim Tatum’s hiring in 1946, OU has hired just one head coach to be its head coach — Howard Schnellenberger. Every other hire — Bud Wilkinson, Gomer Jones, Jim Mackenzie, Chuck Fairbanks, Barry Switzer, Gary Gibbs, John Blake and Stoops — was an assistant coach. And five of those eight were OU assistants.

Heupel has a great name within the university and within the OU football brand. His sister married David Boren’s son, former Congressman Dan Boren, so Heupel even has a European dynastic thing going.

If Heupel wanted to be the next coach at Missouri or Arkansas, then going to Louisiana Tech would have been prudent. If Heupel wants to be the next coach at OU, then staying put probably was the right move.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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