Through the storm – McNeese turning to Schroyer for rebuild
by Jim Gazzolo
It has become almost a ritual at McNeese State basketball games.
Every game, especially at home, the crowd keeps one eye on the court and the other on the Cowboys’ bench, where Heath Schroyer patrols.
The head coach moves up and down, waves his arms and stomps his feet for a full 40-minute dance. There is no letting up as he claps, yells and signals his way through each and every game. But that’s not the only thing fans are watching.
They want to see just where Schroyer is standing at any given moment. Often he is left wandering — actually more like racing — out of the little talked about coaching box. It has made Southland Conference officials more than a tad sensitive.
Warned almost in every game, Schroyer has even received a few technicals for leaving the sacred ground of coaching, which is basically unheard of in basketball.
“I do move around a lot,” Schroyer will admit.
So much so there is even somebody on the bench watching, a get-back coach if you will. Schroyer has called it the “toughest job” on his staff.
Maybe he can’t stay in the box because he’s the type of guy who is always thinking out of it. Schroyer, who is starting his third year at the helm of the McNeese program, is anything but a guy who fits into a box.
Always finding the light at the end of a dark tunnel, Schroyer has become the face of McNeese athletics, not just basketball. He took over the job as interim athletic director over the summer, adding to a plate that is filled with more than just coaching basketball.
“I wasn’t looking for the job, but I could not turn it down when (McNeese) President (Daryl) Burckel asked,” Schroyer said.
Before him McNeese got little and probably deserved less attention than any around. McNeese wasn’t bad as much as it was uninteresting.
Enter Schroyer, a used car salesman in sneakers and sweats. He was given the job of selling a program that had no vision, little history and not even its own arena. And he sold it to players and fans alike.
“I felt the energy he brought as a coach right away,” said McNeese Sports Information Director Matthew Bonnette. “I knew he would get Mcneese basketball to where he wanted it to be. When he says he would embrace the community he means that.”
Many figured Schroyer would be gone as soon as he turned the program around, which makes sense when you coach at mid-majors. But he looks like anything but one of those guys, embracing not only the university but the entire community.
“I really love it here,” Schroyer said. “I love the people, the town, everything.”
After a rough first season Schroyer made the Cowboys watchable, even giving the school a rare home sellout. They finished 15-17, had a seven-game winning streak and even made the Southland Conference tournament after a four-year absence.
But it is his way with people and problem solving that has made Schroyer the right guy at the right time for the school.
“He has been perfect for us, a great person for not only the university but the community,” said Burckel. “I’m not sure anybody could have done the things he has done during this time.
“He has made this program and now athletic department so involved with the community that we could not have asked for anything more.”
Burckel expects the interim tag to be off soon, adding that he hopes Schroyer keeps the A.D. job for a long time. And basketball, which he still runs, will be his for the foreseeable future.
This fits us right now,” said Burckel “This is what we are going to do. The way we have restructured the department takes a lot of pressure off him.”
He’s happy, I’m happy, he is excited about it.”
Of course, he took the job back in July, when the only thing to worry about was a virus that had turned sports and everything else upside down. Two months later even that had changed.
When Schroyer was first elevated to A.D. there was a nice, new basketball home on campus, upgrades to the baseball facility and football stadium, as well as positive things happening in other sports like softball and track. McNeese looked to be on the rise and the community was getting behind the new look.
But before an event could take place under his leadership, the campus and community was hit not once but twice by hurricanes, the first being the destructive category four Laura, which ripped through southwest Louisiana in late August. Six weeks later, adding insult to injury, Delta, a category 2 storm, followed with massive rain fall.
What Laura didn’t damage Delta did.
Suddenly Schroyer found himself no longer trying to stay in some coaching box of his new gym but rather standing in water at center court and looking up and seeing the sky. His arena, baseball field and football stadium, much like the rest of the campus and down, had suffered a mighty blow.
“It was like a punch in the gut,” Schroyer said in a previous interview. “We will rebuild it better.”
No longer was he just worried about finding his players a place to live and play but also all athletes at McNeese.
“We had a great staff and great people that did everything they could for the athletes,” said Schroyer. “There was so much going on, so much to do, I never could have done it alone or even tried. Everybody did their part and more.”
Now, as the basketball season starts, another problem. After dropping their opener at Nebraska last week, McNeese’s first home game fell victim to Covid-19. They hope to try again Wednesday.
Between that, rebuilding facilities and having football moved to the spring, you would think Schroyer might have second thoughts about his double role. Well, he doesn’t.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” he said. “Anytime there is adversity their lies great opportunity.”
Schroyer’s future ideas and plans for McNeese haven’t changed despite the storm damage. He still wants to take the athletic program to an even higher level and is more than willing to go out and sell his vision to anybody who will listen.
“We’re going to build this university back,” he said. “We’re going to build this athletic department back. We’re going to end up being bigger and better and a lot tougher than we were before.”
It’s why the athletic department has rallied around Schroyer.
When he was named the interim AD it was a no brainer,” Bonnette said. “Best move that could have been made.’
Now, if they can only find a way to have him think out of the box while staying inside of it on the sidelines, then all will be right again.
* Jim Gazzolo is the host of Eye on Sports for CBS-Lake Charles