Rebranding McNeese through actions

by Jim Gazzolo

Story by: Jim Gazzolo

The un-McNeese-ing of McNeese seems to be complete.

Gone are the days of next man up when it came to coaching jobs. Gone too is the feeling that the athletic program is a place where time stands still.

Ironically, it was an ultimate McNeese who has changed the direction of the university’s athletics. 

Dr. Daryl Burckel, the school’s president, played football at McNeese, he taught at McNeese. He probably bleeds blue and gold. 

He was also smart enough to see that time was passing by his beloved university when it came to its name and sports teams.

Stuck in the middle of an every growing pack of schools looking to make a name for themselves, McNeese had lost it’s direction and to some extend identity. 

For many who came here to coach the school was a comfortable place to play. They could get lost in the shuffle and countdown the days to a nice retirement check. There was little if any pressure to win, with the exception of maybe football.

McNeese athletics resembled more of a strong intramural program where everybody gets a chance to play. Fans even cared more about local kids getting a chance over bringing in talented kids who could win. 

Enter Burckel and his partner in crime Heath Schroyer. The duo are here to win and to win the right way. 

They want to re-brand the McNeese name, even dropping the word State when it comes to the schools athletic teams. 

To be fair, this process really began long before they were in charge, when Justin Hill was named the head baseball coach and the all-but forgotten Mike Smith was hired from California and sent the softball program out to play every big school he could find.

But the school took a few steps back before Schroyer took over the basketball program and then became Burckel’s hand-picked director of athletics. 

So there should be no surprise that Schroyer went on a national search to find a new basketball coach for the McNeese women’s basketball team. And he found his guy in Lynn Kennedy from Portland State. 

Getting Kennedy to leave a program he has established and built to rebuild the Cowgirls seems fitting for Lake Charles these days. We are all rebuilding our homes. 

Schroyer’s ability to sell a program ravaged by two hurricanes and in need of a major overhaul both in facilities and talent seems amazing to most. But this is a guy who sold his program to recruits when he didn’t even have a gym. 

Now it is time for us to rebrand the rebranding. No longer does Burckel want to hear the term un-McNeese-ing McNeese. He claims now “we are just McNeese”. 

This is an important change for the school’s future. Before, coaches acted like they were separate from the school, working their own programs and at times bumping into other teams from the school. Schroyer wants everybody pulling in the same direction. 

“We are one department,” Schroyer said. “We want people who want to be part of our team.”

And he wants to win. The best way to get players to come to your school, fans to your games and media to cover your teams is win.

“Why not McNeese,” Schroyer said. “Why can’t we win here. Why can’t we be a national brand.

“We are setting the bar high. We want to have expectations that are high. We want that challenge. I want coaches that want to compete.”

It does put pressure on those who are coming to town but that is what sports is all about. It is a good thing. 

And don’t go against McNeese either. When four Texas schools wanted to take a year-long victory lap before leaving the Southland Conference for the Western Athletic, Schroyer and Burckel led the charge to kick them out at the end of this spring season. 

The message is clear, if you aren’t with them you are not needed around them.

Holding people accountable is perhaps the biggest step in the rebranding of McNeese athletics. 

It also completes the process of un-McNeese-ing McNeese.

* Jim Gazzolo is a freelance journalist who covers McNeese athletics for CBS-Lake Charles and the American Press. The above opinions are his own.

Categories: Eye On Outstanding Teacher