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Football: Joining Napier at UL 'no-brainer' for ex-LSU Tiger Sale

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 3, 2018

636536376564749674-UL.Signing.Day.Bash.02.07-4795.jpg

New UL coach Billy Napier, right, looks up here, but it's the way new Cajuns offensive coordinator Rob Sale, left, looks up to Napier that made it easy for Sale to take the job. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)

He is from Monroe. He played at LSU. He has coached the offensive line at McNeese State and UL Monroe.

His personal ties to the state of Louisiana, from family to football, are strong — perhaps even as solid as his personal bond with new Ragin’ Cajuns head coach Billy Napier.

So when Rob Sale had a chance to follow Napier from Arizona State to UL, where he is now the Cajuns’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, his response to the opportunity was obvious and immediate.

Goodbye desert, hello Cajun Country.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Sale, currently in the midst of his first spring practice go-round with the Cajuns.

Related: New UL coach Napier must assemble coaching staff

One factor in saying yes, Sale suggested, trumps all the rest.

“To me,” he said, “the most important thing: my relationship with Coach Napier.”

But there were plenty of others.

“Home’s right down the road,” Sale said. “My wife’s parents are an hour away.

“I mean, I’ve known UL football all my life — looking at it from afar, their support there. I just love the culture here.”

Sale was speaking not long after UL’s recent controversial NIT basketball loss to his alma mater in Baton Rouge, a game that came between a pair of Cajun baseball wins over nationally ranked LSU.

Related: UL's Marlin says 'Old-school guys think that LSU is better'

More: After heated NIT, UL and LSU are cool on the diamond

“I know I went purple-and-gold, I and I played there (at LSU), but they (many Cajun faithful) don’t like purple and gold, and I get it,” Sale said, making sure to embrace the new family without offending any of the exes.

“But that,” he added, “is what also makes this place (UL) special.”

Special as well is the relationship Sale has with Napier, Arizona State’s offensive coordinator last season and a former receivers coach under Nick Saban at Alabama.

A product of Neville High in Monroe, Sale spent five seasons as a guard and center at LSU from 1998-2002 — playing in 35 games, and starting 25 over his final two-and-half years with the Tigers — back when a full head of hair covered a now shiny dome.

His first coaching job came at Catholic High of Pointe Coupee, where he coached the offensive line in 2006.

But Sale wasn’t long for the high school ranks.

Having played for Saban during his last few seasons at LSU, he was on his ex-coach’s Alabama staff from 2007-11 serving in capacities that included strength-and-conditioning assistant and offensive video analyst.

That’s where he crossed paths with Napier, who after getting fired as Clemson’s offensive coordinator, was a Crimson Tide offensive analyst in 2011.

More: UL's Napier 'not the rah-rah, yelling coach'

After he served as McNeese’s offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator while in Lake Charles from 2012-14, Georgia’s offensive line coach in 2015 and ULM’s o-line coach back in his hometown in 2016, Sale reunited with Napier at Arizona State.

The two worked closely, as Sale was the Sun Devils’ o-line coach and run game coordinator under Napier.

The relationship made it easy for Sale to become Napier’s first known assistant coaching hire at UL.

Actually, it seemed like a near-simultaneous move.

“I just believe in the man,” Sale said of Napier. “I really do. He’s a great coach.”

At UL, Napier plans to call plays.

But his offensive coordinator expects to be close by all the while, as Sale said he expects to coach from the field “unless (Napier) tells me to go upstairs” — something he does not expect.

Related: After playing hurt, it's 'now or never' for UL's Barnes

“He (Napier) called the plays last year on the ground. He likes it,” Sale said. “He likes to look at the players in the eyes. You get a lot of information (that way), I think.

“We coach and we teach at a high level, and the information that you get from the players — you can learn as a coach from it.”

Sale is similarly hands-on with his offensive linemen on the practice field, and — with offensive coordinator duties to deal with as well — he has a helper.

Napier also added an assistant offensive line coach as one of his full-time assistants, hiring 2017 Mississippi State tight ends coach D.J. Looney — an ex-Bulldogs offensive lineman — for that post.

“We intertwine,” Sale said of the two.

“I lead it. I say, ‘Hey, let’s do this today,’ and he (Looney) doesn’t question it. He goes and does it. But he’s a very knowledgeable coach, does a great job.”

For the arrangement to work best, Sale said it’s critical that Looney “hears me talk and hears me coach and hears me teach, because we’ve got to speak the same language.”

The same goes for UL tight ends coach Michael Desormeaux, an ex-Cajuns quarterback — and former receivers coach and running backs coach under fired UL head coach Mark Hudspeth — who was retained by Napier following the program’s December makeover.

More: Desormeaux named assistant coach for Cajuns

“He (Looney) can’t say something different than I’m saying,” Sale said, “(and) Coach Desormeaux can’t say something different than we’re saying.

“We’re all speaking the same terms, same language, same verbiage.”

With a new playbook, and new words to describe what they do, Sale knows he and his offensive assistants are putting a lot on the Cajuns early in spring drills.

UL is off this week due to spring break, and resumes work Sunday in advance of their 15th and final spring practice on April 21 at Cajun Field.

“Just watching what they did last year, going through the (film) cut-ups, concepts — when it comes just in the run game, it’s a lot more,” Sale said not long after camp opened. “Yeah, it’s lot more for ’em. It’s more high volume.

“We probably installed six or seven runs (on the second day of spring practice). The day before, our first practice, it was five runs. So, conceptually, it’s a lot for ’em.”

But it can be made much easier for everyone if Sale and Looney stay on the same page, Sale indicated.

UL loses starting tackles Grant Horst and D’Aquin Withrow, but returns standouts Kevin Dotson and Robert Hunt — both of whom started at guard spots last season. Starting center Cole Prudhomme and top o-line reserve Staten Wade, however, both have been out for the season due to offseason health matters.

More: Cajuns dealing with a spring hole at center

So far, so good, suggested Sale, who early in camp called his o-line “the strength of our offense.”  

“Our personalities, me and Coach Looney, are so much the same,” Sale said.

“Our relationship is great. He doesn’t question me and I don’t question him, so it’s great. It’s really worked out so far.”

The same can perhaps be said for Sale and Napier, who quite evidently is held in high regard by his new offensive coordinator.

“You just feel the genuineness, how he cares for his players,” Sale said of Napier. “He’s just no-stones-unturned.”

More: WR, LB corps impress Napier in spring

MEET ROB SALE

Hometown: Monroe (Neville High)

Alma Mater: LSU (offensive lineman)

Present: UL offensive coordinator, offensive line coach

2017: Arizona State offensive line coach, run game coordinator

2016: UL Monroe offensive line coach

2015: Georgia offensive line coach

2012-14: McNeese State offensive line coach, co-offensive coordinator

2007-11: Alabama strength-and-conditioning assistant, offensive video analyst

2006: Point Coupee High offensive line coach



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