Four Southeastern Conference head baseball coaches.
The right-hand man, and a possible successor, to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive.
Five collegiate athletic directors.
Two NFL assistant coaches.
Dozens more collegiate administrators, coaches and athletic staff share a common bond with Mike Brey, Buzz Williams, John Cohen, Dave Van Horn, Rob Childress and Mitch Gaspard. They all savored the beauty of the Natchitoches Christmas Festival lights during their time at Northwestern State as staff members or student-athletes.
“The Christmas season is something special in Natchitoches, and a time to count our blessings. In the NSU Athletics Department, our lights shine a little brighter as we reflect on how successful so many of our former Demons have become in their athletic careers,” said athletics director Greg Burke, who in his 18th year in that position is the state’s longest-tenured AD.
Brey, in his 14th season as head basketball coach at Notre Dame, played point guard for the Demons from 1977-80 under Tynes Hildebrand and ranks eighth in school history in assists. Williams, a former Mike McConathy assistant coach who helped NSU to the 2001 NCAA Tournament, is in his sixth year as head coach at Marquette, has restored the Warriors alongside Notre Dame as a perennial Top 25 program.
The Demons’ diamond boss from 1998-2001, Cohen steered Mississippi State’s baseball team to the College World Series finals last June. Dave Van Horn (head coach at NSU from 1995-97) has guided Nebraska and Arkansas to Omaha, while his former NSU and Nebraska pitching coach, Rob Childress, led Texas A&M to the 2011 CWS. Bianco (Ole Miss), a former Demon assistant under Jim Wells in 1991-92, and Gaspard (Alabama), assistant for Wells at NSU in 1993-94 and the Demons’ head coach from 2002-07, have guided their SEC teams to NCAA Super Regionals.
Under the radar is former NSU compliance director and golf coach Greg Sankey, who became Southland Conference commissioner (1996-2002) and is now, in his 11th year in the SEC office, the league’s executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer. He runs day-to-day operations in the SEC office.
Sitting athletic directors with roots at NSU include Tommy McClelland at Louisiana Tech, a deep snapper on the Demons' 2004 Southland Conference champion football team; Southern’s Dr. William Broussard, an All-America football player in 1998-99 for the Demons who later returned as associate AD; UNO’s Derek Morel, who like Broussard was NSU’s chief fundraiser; and former administrative interns Danny Powell (Hendrix College) and Mark Molesworth (Wisconsin-Platteville).
Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson, who last week was called “the best in the league” in his role by New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, is in his 13th NFL season and 33rd year in the profession. He played center for the Demons from 1975-79 then began his coaching career at Northwestern.
Chiefs’ head strength coach Barry Rubin was a college teammate of Johnson’s as a tight end from 1977-79 and has been an NFL strength coach since 1995 with Green Bay, Philadelphia and Kansas City.
A teammate of Johnson’s and Rubin’s at NSU, Ed Orgeron, is in what is likely a weeks-long hiatus from collegiate coaching. Orgeron was the interim head coach at USC this fall, and after guiding the Trojans to an impressive comeback that included a win over No. 5 Stanford on the way to a 10-win season in the wake of the Lane Kiffin firing, he was passed over for the job on a permanent basis. The former Ole Miss head coach, who helped Miami win a pair of national championships as defensive line coach, could be a cornerstone of the new Texas Longhorns coaching staff.
“It is amazing to look at how prominent many of our athletic alumni have become in collegiate and even professional sports,” said Burke. “What’s most gratifying is how we often hear from them, or hear and see them talking about the influence their time at Northwestern State and Natchitoches had on their success. The Christmas Festival is an annual reminder of how special this community is, and in the sports world, we have constant reminders watching these former Demons add to their resumes.”
The alumni list includes media relations directors at Iowa (Steve Roe) and Kansas State (Kenny Lannou), the meet director of one of the three premiere collegiate track and field events, the annual Drake Relays (Dr. Brian Brown, a six-time All-America high jumper and two-time national champion at NSU) and Southland Conference associate commissioner Bruce Ludlow.
NSU’s highly respected sports medicine program, guided for the last half century by the legendary Eugene Christmas and from 1989-2012 by Ed Evans, has produced a multitude of athletic trainers at all levels, including Georgia Bulldogs director of rehabilitation Mike Dew and two of the top staffers at Alabama, Ginger Gilmore and Joe Hoffer.
Athletic administrators at Texas, Auburn, Colorado, Utah State, South Florida, Lamar, UTSA, Binghamton, Detroit and Henderson State are former NSU athletic staffers.
Along with Williams and Brey, three more former Demon basketball assistants are head men’s Division I head coaches: Dave Simmons (McNeese), Mark Slessinger (UNO) and Steve Payne (Tennessee Tech). Southern’s Roman Banks set the NSU career assists record and ranks seventh in scoring in school history after playing at NSU from 1987-92.
Louisiana College women's coach Jason Tinsley was a men's assistant in the late 1990s on J.D. Barnett's NSU staff. Former Lady Demon assistant coaches Mona Martin (Louisiana-Monroe), Sandy Pugh (Southern) and Wendy Schuller (Eastern Washington) have enjoyed long, successful careers running their own programs after coaching under James Smith (1987-2004) at NSU.
Glenn Moore, who has guided Baylor softball for 13 seasons including 11 NCAA Tournaments and two Women’s College World Series berths, was a tight end on the 1988-89 Demon football teams who got his college softball coaching career underway as Rickey McCalister’s pitching coach at NSU.
Hildebrand, who was basketball coach at NSU from 1963-80 and athletics director from 1986-1996, remains significant not only in the careers of many alumni, but also in college basketball. He is one of four NCAA regional officials evaluators who observes dozens of games from November to March, helping choose the officials who work the NCAA Tournament, and helping grade those who advance to the Final Four. Brey credits Hildebrand, Duke coach Mike Kryzewski and legendary DeMatha (Md.) High School coach Morgan Wooten as his three primary coaching influences.
Hildebrand protégés, along with Sankey, Molesworth, Powell and Morel, include Burke and Dr. Ralph Pim, who heads the competitive (club) sports program at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point).
“It doesn’t take long for us to have reason to cheer when we look around collegiate athletics,” said Burke. “We have well over 80 people we take pride in, far and wide across the country. It’s quite an accomplished group who were impactful during their time at Northwestern.”