LAKE CHARLES – McNeese’s new football head coach Lance Guidry said it best when he returned to the Cowboys’ coaching staff in 2013… “When momma calls you back home, you go.”
Momma made quite a few calls after Guidry was named head coach back in December, calling back McNeese Hall of Famers Zach Bronson, Kerry Joseph and Charlie Ayro to join the McNeese staff.
With those three joining, the Cowboys’ staff is compiled of six McNeese graduates (Guidry, Eman Naghavi and Lark Hebert).
“Being able to bring three former all-Americans and McNeese Hall of Fame inductees onto our staff is huge,” said Guidry at the beginning of the year. They all were great players here but they are even better people and role models.”
The six coaches have combined to win 11 of McNeese’s 14 Southland Conference championships, have played or coached in all 16 playoff years including the two national championship appearances, have all been named either a preseason or postseason all-American and have all compiled all-SLC honors during their playing days.
McNeese has always been a hot bed for young, talented players to return to their alma mater to coach the next generation of Cowboys to continue the tradition.
“It’s a tremendous blessing to come back,” said Bronson who spent seven years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers after signing on as an undrafted free agent. “It’s overwhelming to come back to a place where it all started for myself. Being able to come back and help these kids make the right decisions on and off the field, that means a lot.”
Bronson is the only McNeese player to have been named first team all-conference all four of his playing years (1993-96).
“It means something to be back where you started,” said Joseph who was named the league’s player of the year in 1995. “It’s great to be able to come back to your alma mater and to be on staff with some other graduates of McNeese and guys you played with. I think it makes it special because it means something to us to be successful.”
“This is like a dream come true,” said Ayro who earned first team all-SLC honors in 1997 and 1998 and was named the league’s defensive player of the year in 1998. “It’s a blessing to be able to come back to the school you played for and graduated.
“You have six guys that understand the history of McNeese football. We don’t have to go research anything to go to try to sell our program because we were part of it.”
Guidry played for the Cowboys from 1990-93 and was on the 1991 team that qualified for its first-ever playoff tournament. A year later, he, along with a freshman quarterback named Kerry Joseph, helped guide the Cowboys to their first playoff win.
In 1995, Joseph and Bronson teamed up to lead McNeese to a 13-0 record before falling to Marshall in the semifinals of the then-1AA playoffs and in 1997, Ayro was a member of the first McNeese team to play for a national championship.
Ayro, Guidry and Hebert were on staff for the 2002 season for McNeese’s second attempt at a national title.
Hebert, now entering his 15th season, is the veteran of the staff and spent several occasions on staff with Bronson, Guidry and Ayro in different years. Ayro and Bronson each had graduate assistantships before venturing off to begin their coaching careers in the high school ranks.
Naghavi, a first team all-conference player in 2007 and 2008, was an offensive line assistant in 2012 before leaving for a two-year stint at the University of Texas. He returned in 2015 as the team’s o-line coach.
And despite this being Joseph’s first full-time coaching job, his knowledge of the game and what he can pass down to the new crop of Cowboys is unmatched.
“I think what it does for us is our credibility (having played at McNeese and played many years in the professional ranks), that the instruction and coaching that we give these kids, our credibility goes a long way because we played the game,” said Joseph. “They (players) see us as young coaches that still have the mindset of playing the game. What it does for us is it helps us have a lot of energy and if feeds down into the young kids of them playing with a lot of energy and practicing with a purpose; practicing to be great and that’s the thing that I really stress to my guys when we’re out there on the field.”
After spending 12 years in the Canadian Football League following a five-year stint in the NFL, the New Iberia native feels right at home.
“When I came back, it was a very warm welcome,” Joseph said. “This is home away from home.”
Having suited up in the blue and gold and winning championships goes a long way when trying to teach the new Pokes the art of being successful.
“We try to make them understand what it takes to get on that level,” said Ayro. “As players, having been in those shoes, understand togetherness, hard work, trusting each other. We’re able to give examples. We’re trying to teach them the objectives to winning a conference championship and national championship.
“Coach Guidry is doing a great job of changing the culture by the way the guys think. I think having us on staff we can give them that mental aspect of what it takes to get to that next level and to accomplish another conference title and to make a run at that national championship.”
On September 3, they’ll all be walking down the steps leading into “The Hole” not as the high-achieving students they once were, but now as the high-expectations teachers.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotions, chills,” said Ayro. “I don’t know… tears maybe.”
“I know I’m going to have some nerves, but it’s going to be good,” said Joseph. “The last time I really stepped down on that field in competition was 21 years ago. Now to be able to go out there and compete as a coach, there’s going to be some nervous energy.
“I know it’s going to be a lot of fun to be back in front of the great fans of McNeese and Lake Charles. It’ll be a special moment.”