For the Cajuns’ coaches, continuity is the thing

Louisiana-Lafayette assistant head coach Reed Stringer knows he can speak his mind when he disagrees with another coach, and he doesn’t need to worry about hurting feelings or egos, even if that coach is boss man Mark Hudspeth.

Stringer knows each of his fellow coaches’ strengths and weaknesses as he knows his own.

He knows the number of a good baby-sitter if he really needs one.

He knows all these things because they’re things family is supposed to know. With the exception of one coach, defensive coordinator James Willis, the entire staff has been with the Cajuns since Hudspeth took over the program for the 2011 season. Many worked together before coming to Lafayette.

It’s led to a group that not only knows the best way to work together toward achieving one goal, but has also been able to maintain the same, steady message since the first day on the job.

“The common theme when coach Hud first got here of what he wanted in a program has not strayed,” Stringer said. “It doesn’t matter if we have same the coaches, different coaches, same players — the theme of what he wants and how he wants to run the program have not strayed.

“The fact that we have the same coaches that bought into that right off the bat, and they live it, breathe it and believe in what we’re doing here, that resonates through our entire team. When our kids see us believe in it, they’re going to believe in it.”

Looking at the results since Hudspeth took over, it’s hard to argue with Stringer.

In the 15 years before Hudspeth landed in Lafayette, the Cajuns finished above .500 only once, when they went 6-5 in 2005. The program had exactly three nine-win seasons in its entire history, with the last one coming 35 years before Hudspeth took the job.

Hudspeth and his staff are three-for-three in the nine-win season department and gunning for more.

“That’s a big part of why we’re successful,” said senior defensive lineman Christian Ringo. “Coach Hud is on us each year and he doesn’t let up on us. We know what’s expected of us.”

The players have had the same technique drilled into them for so long, some for three years and change now, that it’s become second nature.

It’s also been the same face preaching the same message, one that’s already proven to yield results. It has expedited the learning process in many cases, because the older players can act as coaches on the field.

“Our way has been successful,” Stringer said. “We’ve proven that for three years, so our kids buy into it. Especially when the younger kids see the older kids and know how it’s supposed to be done, they’re able to develop faster and get used to what we do faster.”

One of the buzz phrases that keeps flying around the program is that a player “knows what it takes to be a Ragin’ Cajun.” Three separate coaches have used it in the first two weeks of camp on three separate occasions.

It sounds meaningless to people on the outside, like pep rally material. But inside that football facility it takes on a real meaning, because it’s an ideal the coaches have created and fostered over the course of their four years together.

Hudspeth’s core values are visible in placards all over football offices and locker rooms. They are physical reminders of what he expects out of his players: Honesty, using great judgment, competing every day, being accountable, projecting positive energy and finding a way.

“(The players) know what’s expected,” Hudspeth said. “They know you’ve got to be on time, they know you’ve got to give a good effort and they know that the little things are important. That pays off.”

Somehow, the staff has managed to find a way to stay together. This doesn’t usually happen at a program that’s so successful. Take a look at the Cajuns’ top contender the last couple years in Arkansas State, which is operating under its fifth coach in the last five seasons.

Stringer said coaches have had opportunities to leave, to take jobs at either a bigger school or with bigger responsibility, they just haven’t felt compelled to.

They’ve used it to their advantage, both by establishing a rock solid foundation and acquiring pieces for the future.

“We’ve had opportunities,” Stringer said. “There are coaches on our staff that have had opportunities to leave. That’s what happens when you win and you’re successful, but people have decided to stay. We sell that in recruiting. This is a place where we feel like you can get a great education, enjoy every second you’re here and win football games.”