Jim Wells walked into a meeting room for an interview to be the head baseball coach at Northwestern State University.
He looked around and saw a couple of familiar faces before noticing one omission.
“I asked where (university president) Dr. (Robert) Alost was,” Wells said. “They pointed to a camera and said, ‘We’re taping this for him.’ I thought, ‘I hope he watches this.’ I needed his vote, because the only people I knew in the room were (Vice President for External Affairs) Jerry Pierce and (Director of Athletics) Tynes Hildebrand.”
Alost, who passed away Friday at age 85 after a long illness, and his committee settled on Wells as the Demons’ new baseball coach for the 1990 season, and for the next five seasons, Wells never forgot how much Alost’s trust in him meant.
“I was shocked when somebody asked me if I was interested in the job,” Wells said. “That was like going to the Yankees. (Alost’s decision) gave me confidence that someone would pick us to be there. I felt like I owed him.”
An educator at heart and reputation as well as a former Northwestern State football letterman and member of the N-Club Hall of Fame, Alost maintained a zeal for learning, one that benefited the NSU Athletic Department and strengthened his relationship with Hildebrand.
The pair served several terms on the NCAA Council Board of Directors, which opened a chance for them to expand their knowledge of college athletics.
“We traveled together, and we would talk women’s athletics, compliance, athletic facilities,” Hildebrand said. “That’s where I got to know him very well. At that time, women weren’t treated as well in athletics. They didn’t have the same budget, the same locker rooms. This program was to improve that and used to evaluate universities. If you didn’t pass it, you had to repeat it. Randy Webb was the president when we received our results, and it was a nice letter telling us how great we were doing.”
Alost played two seasons as a tackle for the Demon football team in 1954-55 and his lifelong love of athletics shone through.
In 1963, Alost began his Northwestern State educational career in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, laying the groundwork for a longtime relationship with the Northwestern State Athletic Department, a kinship that flourished after Alost became chair of the HPER department in 1968.
“He had a deep love for athletics and for health and physical education,” Pierce said. “When he became a professor, there was a close relationship with the athletic department. A high percentage of our student-athletes were his students. They became coaches and principals of schools, and he maintained relationships with them. He brought a different (presidential) perspective to athletics.”
Alost’s decade at the helm of his two-time alma mater came at a time where the university was facing financial and enrollment challenges.
That did not stop the NSU athletic program from putting together numerous standout performances both individually and in the team realm while Alost was in charge.
As president, Alost oversaw a 1988 Southland Conference football championship and seven NFL draftees. The Demon baseball team, led by Wells and another future Southeastern Conference head coach Dave Van Horn, nabbed four SLC regular-season titles and reached two NCAA Regionals while producing 10 Major League Baseball draftees.
Wells and Van Horn later led Alabama and Arkansas, respectively, to the championship game of the College World Series.
Under head coach James Smith, another Alost hire, the Lady Demons basketball program notched conference championships in the Gulf Star and Southland conferences while reaching the semifinals of the 1995 WNIT.
Individually, Brian Brown captured the high jump championship at the 1989 USA Outdoor Championships and added the 1990 NCAA Indoor high jump crown to his resume.
That success fit with Alost, whom Pierce called “a big-picture guy.” Hildebrand said Alost was a perfectionist, again aligning with his choice of head coaches.
Alost also was, in Hildebrand’s words, an encourager, especially with his head coaches.
“The first year, we got off to a good start (winning 20 straight games), but we got beat at the end, and he was at the game,” Wells said. “I went over to him after the game and apologized, because I felt like I let him down. He just encouraged me and said, ‘It’s going to be fine. It’s your first year.’”
A year later, Wells’ Demons captured the Southland Conference championship and reached the NCAA Regionals.
Wells’ transformation of the NSU baseball program and Smith’s continued success with the Lady Demon program mirrored that of Alost’s leadership atop the university.
“He saw the big picture in all that he did,” Pierce said. “He transformed a place that, because of the economy and other factors, was down. He came in and made a lot of changes that affected enrollment. He created the Scholars College after he had founded the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, which was revolutionary.
“All of that is related to what he did with athletics. He didn’t talk a lot, but he got things done. He supported athletics and the coaches. He saw what athletics could be, and he listened to the coaches and did things they thought would help their programs. He was a hands-on president with athletics, creating the atmosphere and providing resources for athletics to succeed.”