LAFAYETTE - The last thing Mark Hudspeth wanted to talk about Wednesday was what everyone in Lafayette is talking about: Will the current University of Louisiana at Lafayette coach still be the Ragin’ Cajuns’ coach a year from now?
Given Hudspeth’s instant success in turning around the Cajuns’ football fortunes, the question comes as no surprise.
Rumors have been circulating among the media and on the Internet, linking Hudspeth’s name to any of a number of present or soon-to-be job openings: Ole Miss, Memphis, Southern Miss, Mississippi State and Tulane just for starters.
That, of course, is a compliment to Hudspeth’s success in Lafayette, but it also poses a huge distraction for him and his team as they begin preparations for the Dec. 17 New Orleans Bowl - their first bowl appearance in more than 40 years.
Not surprisingly, Hudspeth made it clear at a Wednesday news conference that he will not comment - specifically - on any reports or speculation regarding his future.
“Let me first say: I can’t control what’s put out on message boards and blogs across the Internet,” he began. “And so, with that being said, I don’t have any news about any jobs, and (I) don’t plan on talking about any other jobs.
“The only thing we’re concerned about right now is winning this bowl game and getting practice started for the bowl game. Our total focus is on these kids and preparing for the New Orleans Bowl Dec. 17.”
Hudspeth acknowledged that he and ULL Athletic Director Scott Farmer have spoken briefly about possibly restructuring his current contract. Currently, Hudspeth has four years remaining on his contract, one that earns him a base of $360,000. Incentives are in place to push that amount to more than $400,000.
No opponent has yet been named for the Cajuns for the bowl game, but that announcement is expected in the next few days.
The opponent could come from any of three to four other conferences, depending on results this weekend.
“There’s a lot of speculation on who we’re going to play,” Hudspeth said. “It may even be a Mountain West team or a MAC (Mid-American Conference) team or a Conference USA team.”
Given that scenario, the Cajuns, he said, have been working this week simply on fundamentals.
“To be honest with you, we’re working with the young kids an awful lot,” he said. “At the end of practice, we’re letting the young guys get a lot of reps guys who didn’t play or play a lot, our redshirt kids and our freshmen.
“When you go to a bowl, it’s like you get another spring practice, so we’re trying to bring these guys along.”
Hudspeth said the Cajuns (8-4) have been practicing “hard” and lifting weights this week as they await word of their opponent. With finals scheduled next week, practice will be scaled down beginning Monday, then will pick back up next Saturday and Sunday as they prepare for game week.
Thus far, the subject of Hudspeth’s name being circulated regarding other jobs has not been a distraction, he said. He has not mentioned it to the players; and they, he said, have not made an issue of it to him.
“They know this is the nature of the business,” he said. “When you win games, you’re going to be talked about for other jobs, and when you don’t win, you’re going to be talked about for not being there.
“I’d rather, at least, be talking about it this way than the other. The kids know I’m their football coach, and we’re getting ready to win a football game.”
After Saturday’s 45-37 loss to Arizona - their second straight - Hudspeth said it is important that the Cajuns win on Dec. 17.
“We definitely want to win our last game; that’s the one that sticks with you,” he said. “Anytime you win your last game, it gives you a little more momentum heading into the offseason. It’s very important that we finish with a big win, and we’re going to do everything in our power to do that.”
Recruiting, Hudspeth said, is going “extremely” well. Currently, the Cajuns have 17 verbal commitments. “When you win and your name is being thrown around, right or wrong, obviously, it is exposure and kids see that. It hasn’t been a negative, whatsoever,” he said.