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NEW BOYS ON THE BLOCK
John Underwood
September 06, 1976
From the day he's hired, a college football coach has two things in common with his predecessor—a belief he can do the job, a good chance he won't. Meet four fresh optimists
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September 06, 1976

New Boys On The Block

From the day he's hired, a college football coach has two things in common with his predecessor—a belief he can do the job, a good chance he won't. Meet four fresh optimists

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Jordan's new office is bereft of memorabilia—no trophies, no plaques. Just one small sign on the wall behind his desk, bordered in black: "The moral of the quiet example/is to do the best you can./ Be proud of yourself, but remember/there is no indispensable man."

When W. L. (Jack) Howard, longtime mayor of Monroe, La., was pushing Northeast Louisiana University football a few years ago, he spun dreams of a packed 70,000-seat stadium (bigger, by conspicuous coincidence, than LSU's 67,720-seater) and thrilled his audiences with prospects of a Northeast Louisiana marching band that would just happen to number a few booming, clanging pieces more than LSU's. Having gotten on the bandwagon without knowing that much about football, Mayor Jack and his citizen's committee did not confuse most of the constituents, who correctly identified these dreams as pipe. Monroe, after all, was named after a steamboat. It was recalled, too, that Mayor Jack often had trouble distinguishing his Howard Brothers Discount Store from the City of Monroe, even before he was convicted in 1975 for unauthorized use of city property (his sentence was suspended). There was no mistaking his civic pride, however.

At the time, Northeast was playing in—and seldom filling—modest, unluxurious 8,340-seat Brown Stadium. The school itself is a baby. Founded in 1931 as a junior college and located along the DeSiard Bayou, the campus gets the full effect of the breezes that come in from the Olinkraft Paper Mill, and though it has the nation's second-largest building-construction school and third-largest school of pharmacy, its football program never won any prizes. It did not start playing the game at the four-year-college level until 1951.

But with the day approaching when NE-L would enter the privileged ranks of the NCAA's Division I, the state agreed to fund $6 million for a new stadium with a capacity of somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. Not exactly what Mayor Jack envisioned, but a step up nonetheless. Because of the economy, when ground was broken last July the capacity of the projected stadium had been reduced to 15,000. It should be ready for 1978, when Northeast hopes to be playing a few teams like North Texas State.

Into this gap between dream and reality, NE-L brought John David Crow. Specifically, President Dwight D. (Del) Vines, a volunteer coach of the school's tennis team, a rail-thin realist who tries to dream his dreams in orderly sequence, brought in Crow. When Vines was ready to put the fire to Northeast's rocket, he did what any clear-thinking college president would do. He called Bear Bryant.

"There was a pause on the other end of the line, either because Bear didn't know me or because he was thinking," Vines said. "He said, 'I don't ordinarily recommend a pro player. They get fat and lazy and want all the money. But Crow's a 24-hour-a-day man. He's one of about five I'd say that about.'

"Crow had two other things going for him: he was a name, and he was a native. I didn't know him, but I was told he wasn't getting the satisfaction coaching pros he did coaching in college. I talked to John David on the phone. I said, 'I'll send you an application.' He said, 'Dr. Vines, I have never applied for a job.' That told me something.

"Crow's task here wasn't going to be easy by any means. The program was in shambles. The local schools felt ignored, the players complained about preferential treatment and abuse. We had negative reactions wherever we turned. There's nothing more sensitive in a community than the athletic program. If it has a bad rep, the university suffers. We were getting boys—I hate to say they were outlaws—but boys who couldn't make it at Oklahoma or LSU.

" Monroe is 130,000 people, and they all love football. There's no pro team, no big-college team around. We're it. And nothing does more to bring the community and the faculty and the students and the alumni together. Whether we like it or not, we can't realize our basic goals as a university without a respectable football team. They forget in a hurry how many doctors we've graduated, but they remember those football losses. I've had young people tell me, 'I'd like to go to Northeast, but your football team never wins anything. I'm going to LSU.' "

With Crow's arrival, said Dr. Vines, came "an enthusiasm we never had before." Leaflets and bumper stickers proliferated, proclaiming "the start of something big." The booster club went wild, relatively speaking. "People who used to give $100 were giving $1,000. Support doubled, tripled." A local bank ran a series of ads. Crow made 110 personal appearances. "Get some people together, and I'll talk," he said.

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