Published: November 25, 2019
By: Tanner Craft, Tyler Eschette, Grayson Miller, Kristen Payne, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE—Northwestern State had the Bears on their heels on Oct. 19, looking to erase an 0-6 start to the season. Just nine yards separated the Demons from potential overtime with No. 13 Central Arkansas. Demons quarterback Shelton Eppler took the snap, dropped back and found a receiver in the back of the end zone. Now the decision: Go for two and the win or play it safe and go to overtime? Easy choice for a coach who is trying to turn his program around – go for two.
At the 50-yard line, six rows up in the stands, Renee Laird, the wife of head coach Brad Laird, waits, hands clasped nervously around her face, for the most dramatic moment of the season to unfold. Eppler drops back again and sees his receiver with a step on his defender. But the pass gets knocked away, and Renee Laird collapses in disappointment, undoubtedly feeling the same raw emotion as her husband.
Coaches and their families go through many stresses, no matter the sport, and Renee Laird’s reaction illustrates how difficult it can be to weather the ups and downs. Whether it be the never-ending pressure of building a program or the time that coaches spend away from home, the impact is the same. And in recent interviews, Mrs. Laird and Northwestern State coaches described the emotional roller-coaster that they and their families are often on.
“It’s very stressful because you see the preparation that goes in before the actual game day and the hours spent away from home, and that’s all the coaches,” Renee Laird said.
Her husband, 46, came back to Northwestern State to be the head coach in 2018, after being one of the best players to ever wear the purple and orange. Laird holds the Demon record for career passing yards from his time as the school’s gunslinger.
His goal was simple, to set a foundation and find success for a program that has not had a winning season since 2008, when the Demons finished 7-5 under Coach Scott Stoker. Dale Peveto followed Stoker with a 14-30 record, and the results were not much different under Jay Thomas. He was 21-36 in the five seasons leading up to Laird’s hiring and homecoming.
The Demons went 5-6 during the first season under Laird, leaving Demon fans hopeful for the future. However, the Demons seemed to be backtracking this year right through that loss to Central Arkansas. But they rebounded to win three of their next four games, including a big upset over Sam Houston State, before losing Thursday night to end the season 3-9.
Renee Laird said it’s crucial to stay positive and maintain a sense of perspective.
“We do want to win, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot more that goes into football and coaching kids and making them better at more than just football,” she said. “We knew coming in that we were going to have to rebuild. Unfortunately, you can’t see the leaps and bounds that they’ve made from game to game. All people see at the end is a score.”
Laird is well-liked by his players and Demon fans, and he should have time to prove himself, even though everyone knows that the pressure to win more games is always there. Since 2015, at least 20 college football coaches have lost their jobs each year, and most of the other schools in Louisiana — including the Demons’ Southland Conference rivals Southeastern Louisiana, McNeese State and Nicholls State – are enjoying winning seasons.
Read more at 4WWL.com.