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Football: UL fires head football coach Hudspeth, citing inconsistent play, declining support

Kevin Foote and Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Dec. 3, 2017

After seven roller coaster seasons as the head football coach of the UL Ragin’ Cajuns, Mark Hudspeth was fired by the university after a third consecutive losing season.

Hudspeth told the team he had been let go during a mandatory team meeting Sunday morning.

The university subsequently issued a statement saying Hudspeth has been relieved of his duties.

At a press conference Sunday, UL Athletic Director Bryan Maggard cited inconsistent play this season, dwindling attendance and declining financial support of the program among reasons for the termination.

Maggard said running backs coach Michael Desormeaux, a former Ragin’ Cajuns QB, has been named interim head coach. He said current UL assistant coaches have been asked to continue working with Cajuns players, but he understands they need to look for new jobs.

The new hire would be welcome to speak with current assistants, Maggard said, but the creation of a new staff will primarily be his decision.

Maggard said there is no timetable for the hiring of a new head coach, but that the Cajuns "certainly will move swiftly."

Saturday’s loss to App State "didn’t end up like anybody wanted it to," he said, but it was not the sole reason for the firing. He also cited UL’s recent loss to Georgia Southern as playing a role in the decision. 

Maggard said it was his recommendation that Hudspeth be relieved his duties and that University President Joseph Savoie was supportive of that recommendation.

More: Possible candidates for Cajuns football coaching vacancy

Hudspeth initially took Cajun Country by storm, bringing the kind excitement Cajun Field hadn’t enjoyed in four decades with four straight nine-win seasons and four consecutive New Orleans Bowl victories.

The last three seasons, however, were filled with a steady flow of controversy, scandals and question marks.

And now the Cajuns are moving on, as they decided to spend $1.5 million to buy Hudspeth out of a contact that paid him $1.1 million plus benefits and incentives this year.

The deal, which was redrawn and extended at a significantly higher pay rate in 2014 and had another year added to it in 2015, had been scheduled to run through 2020 prior to the buyout.

On the field, Hudspeth had a 51-38 record for the Cajuns including Saturday’s regular-season ending 63-14 loss at Appalachian State.

Related: Questions about Hudspeth’s future intensify after season-ending loss

More: How important is Saturday’s game for Hudspeth and UL?

Officially, due to NCAA sanctions, his record prior after Saturday was 29-38.

The 51 wins would have placed him third all-time in school history behind Russ Faulkinberry at 66-62 and Nelson Stokley at 62-80. Instead, he ends up eighth.

More: Hudspeth says tough times are ‘the true test of character’

In 2011, Hudspeth took over a UL football program that had been on the brink of getting to its first bowl game since 1970, but had always fallen short under predecessor Rickey Bustle.

The Cajuns were 6-5 in 2005, 6-6 in 2006, 2008 and 2009 – in an era where there were 28-to-34 bowls compared to 40 this season.

Hudspeth, however, wasted no time making a huge impact with a 9-4 showing in his first season, including a memorable 32-30 win over San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl.

The Cajuns would end up going 9-4 on the field in Hudspeth’s first four seasons, including four straight New Orleans Bowl victories.

Attendance at Cajun Field grew from an average of 17,383 in 2010 to 29,171 in 2011. The lowest average attendance in Hudspeth’s first four seasons was 22,865. It had been since 1977 that UL had averaged that many at Cajun Field.

More: Will Hudspeth benefit from lifting of NCAA restrictions?

But much of the shine from Hudspeth’s glory years began to fade in January of 2016, when the NCAA delivered sanctions to his program due to former assistant coach David Saunders arranging fraudulent college entrance exams to recruits.

That resulted in the loss of 11 scholarships, recruiting restrictions and the vacating of all victories from the 2011-14 seasons in which ineligible players took part.

In all, the Cajuns were forced to forfeit 22 wins, including their 2011 and 2013 New Orleans Bowl victories.

UL’s NCAA probation officially ends on Jan. 11, 2018.

The scandals under Hudspeth didn’t stop there.

More: Hudspeth says picking a UL quarterback is ‘not easy’

In November of 2016, the team came under fire after a lockerroom video showed players dancing to a profanity-laced rap song critical of President Donald Trump.

That was the beginning of the end of support from a group of supporters upset largely by Hudspeth’s response to the matter.

In April of 2017, 13 Cajuns were arrested and initially charged with one count each of felony theft – later reduced to a misdemeanor, with the charge to have the chance dismissed following community service.

The 13 allegedly took possessions from the dorm room of a UL player, later dismissed from the program, who was accused of committing rape while he was a member of the team.

His case is still pending.

Related: UL suspends four for Ole Miss game due to prior arrest

The arrests further alienated some fans, including many already upset by the Trump-video controversy.

Hudspeth’s success on the field began to fade as well in 2015 as the program began enduring quarterback issues.

After enjoying the solid play of Blaine Gautier for one-plus seasons and then Terrance Broadway for three years, Hudspeth was never able to replace that level of production or consistency at quarterback.

As a result, the Cajuns fell to 4-8 in 2015, including humbling losses to Akron 25-14 and Louisiana Tech 43-14. Brooks Haack threw for five touchdowns with seven interceptions that season, while Jalen Nixon had seven TDs and five picks.

In 2016, Hudspeth attempted a solution with LSU graduate-transfer Anthony Jennings, who had a few moments early but ended up with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as the Cajuns again experienced a losing season at 6-7.

To Hudspeth’s credit, though, his Cajuns did rally for three wins in their final four games – including a big 24-19 home victory over Arkansas State – to earn another New Orleans Bowl berth. But UL fell to Southern Mississippi 28-21 for Hudspeth’s first bowl loss on the field.

In 2017, the Cajuns have juggled three quarterbacks – including pulling the redshirt off true freshman Levi Lewis in the eight game of the season – while experiencing more offensive inconsistency.

The Cajuns carried a 5-6 record to Appalachian State in the regular-season finale, needing to beat a Mountaineers team UL hasn’t defeated since ASU entered the Sun Belt in 2014.

Prior to coming to UL, Hudspeth was the head coach for seven years at North Alabama, where he put together a 66-21 record with two conference championships. He was also a high school head coach in 1997-98 at Winston Academy in Mississippi, going 25-1 and winning a state championship.

Hudspeth was also an assistant coach at Nicholls State, Delta State (offensive coordinator for two years), Navy (offensive coordinator for one season) and Mississippi State (pass game coordinator for two years) prior to coming to the Cajuns.

More: Cajuns’ loss raises more questions