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Football: UL fires d-coordinator Smith early in second season

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Sept. 5, 2016

One day after a 45-10 season-opening loss to Boise State, UL coach Mark Hudspeth announced that defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith “has been relieved of his duties effective immediately.”

Linebackers coach Mike Lucas, a former head coach at FSC Southland Conference-member Southeastern Louisiana, will serve as the Ragin’ Cajuns’ defensive coordinator "for the remainder of the season," according to a statement from UL.

The Cajuns yielded 584 yards of total offense to Boise State, including 426 through the air, and did not recover any turnovers Saturday.

UL came up with just 11 turnovers last season, when it allowed opponents 31.8 points per game and 420.8 yards per game including 498 in a 37-34 loss to New Mexico State.

The Cajuns went 4-8 in 2015, and after losing to Boise State they have dropped five straight games.

“We appreciate everything that Melvin has done for us since coming here,” Hudspeth said in a statement released by the program late Sunday afternoon, “and we wish he and his family nothing but the best in the future.

“Making a change is never easy,” Hudspeth added, “but we feel this was the necessary thing to do for the success of our program.”

Hudspeth, whose 0-1 Cajuns were meeting and practicing Sunday night, did not immediately respond to requests for further comment, and a UL spokesman said he would be made available Sunday night.

A request for comment from Smith also was made to a UL spokesman, but he did not immediately respond either.

The 58-year-old Smith was starting his second season as UL’s defensive coordinator, and also held the title of "assistant head coach."

He came to UL after two seasons as defensive backs coach at Auburn, and has served previously as an assistant at multiple current SEC schools including Mississippi State, Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

Smith also was Hudspeth’s former position coach when Hudspeth played at Delta State, and the two have had a longstanding relationship.

Lucas, 57, also is in his second season at UL and earlier this year succeeded current tight ends coach Reed Stringer as the Cajuns’ recruiting coordinator.

Lucas becomes UL’s fourth defensive coordinator in six seasons under Hudspeth.

Greg Stewart was let go after two seasons, and later became defensive coordinator at FCS Central Arkansas.

James Willis succeeded Stewart in 2013. He almost left UL after one season to become linebackers coach at Florida State, but wound up staying in 2014. Willis left after the 2014 season, however, to assist coaching linebackers for the New Orleans Saints.

Hudspeth also brought in a defensive consultant Matt Wallerstedt late in the 2014 season, but he left in early 2015 to become defensive coordinator at North Carolina-Charlotte.

Lucas was head coach at Southeastern Louisiana from 2007-2011, and was defensive coordinator for the Lions prior to that from 2005-06.

Since leaving SLU, Lucas also defensive coordinator at FSC Northwestern State in 2014 and defensive line coach at FCS Indiana State in 2013.

Prior to working at SLU, he was defensive coordinator at NCAA Division II Eastern New Mexico from 1985-87 and defensive coordinator at FCS Sam Houston State from 1987-2001.

Lucas is the only current member of UL’s defensive coaching staff that did not come to the Cajuns with Smith from Auburn, where Smith was let go.

Safeties/outside linebackers and defensive co-coordinator coach Charlie Harbison, another longtime SEC assistant coach, was the Tigers’ safeties coach and defensive co-coordinator from 2013-14.

He and Smith worked together previously at Mississippi State as well, and Harbison also was let go by Auburn.

Second-season Cajuns defensive line coach Levorn Harbin was a defensive analyst for Auburn from 2013-14.

Harbison will retain the title of co-defensive coordinator and now will coach the whole UL secondary, adding cornerbacks to his list of responsibilities, UL spokesman Matt Sullivan said. Harbison been coaching safeties and outside linebackers/nickel and dime backs.

Defensive analyst Lionel Stokes, an ex-Cajuns defensive back who had been helping Smith coach cornerbacks, will continue to assist with cornerbacks, according to Sullivan.

The Cajuns did not announce Sunday if another full-time defensive assistant would be hired this season.