LAKE CHARLES — In front of family, friends, fans and even Rowdy the Cowboy, Sterlin Gilbert’s era at McNeese State officially started Friday.
Gilbert was introduced as the 16th head coach of the Cowboys at a press conference that resembled a pep rally.
“My feet are firmly here at McNeese State,” said Gilbert. “I was hired to build a winning program, a successful program for the long term. I’m excited to get started.”
The 40-year-old Gilbert gets his first head coaching job after spending the last two years as the offensive coordinator at South Florida, and a year before that at Texas. All three were under Charlie Strong.
“I learned a lot from those experiences at big programs,” Gilbert said. “You have to have an attention to details and be able to accept the pressure of the job.”
Gilbert replaces Lance Guidry, who in three years went 21-12 but never got McNeese to the playoffs. He also saw his team start this last season 5-1 and drop four of its last five, including the last three, to finish 6-5.
Athletic director Bruce Hemphill called the decision to let Guidry, a former player, go “tough”.
“It’s always hard when you know it’s also about families,” said Hemphill. “That’s the tough part of the business.”
For Gilbert, who was picked over 100 or so applicants and another group of coaches who inquired about the job, this is a dream come true.
“It is a chance to be a head football coach at a program with a great tradition,” said Gilbert. “That was the draw. And on this level you get to play for a national championship. That’s exciting.”
First he will have to lead manes to its first playoff victory since 2002.
“McNeese is well known nationally and has a great history,” Gilbert said. “This is a great opportunity for any head coach.”
While hiring from outside the McNeese family was not a necessity, it was important to find the right candidate no matter where he came from.
“We wanted the very best for our program,” said McNeese president Dr. Daryl Burckel. “With all the candidates we got, I think it shows the culture of McNeese football and its brand are strong.”
Before USF and Texas, Gilbert previously held positions as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Tulsa (2015), Bowling Green (2014) and the previously mentioned Eastern Illinois (2012-13). Gilbert’s previous four offenses at four different programs prior to arriving at USF posted a combined average of 505.3 yards and 36.8 points per game, producing 304.3 yards per game through the air and 200.9 yards per game on the ground.
This should be a boost to a Cowboy offense that struggled to score points all of last season, averaging just over 20 a game.
During the 2012-13 seasons, Gilbert served as the offensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois, where in his second year he was named 2013 FootballScoop FCS Coordinator of the Year.
The Panthers led the nation in total offense (589.5 ypg) and scoring (48.2 ppg) that season, while ranking second with 372.4 passing yards, and 20th with 217.1 rushing yards per game.
He also spent eight years as a coach, including three as a head coach, in Texas High Schools.
“He (Gilbert) is prepared to be a head football coach,” said Hemphill. “He was our first choice.”
Gilbert, who has a knack for developing quarterbacks, including the San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo while at Eastern Illinois, promises to entertain Lake Charles.
“We are going to play an exciting brand of football. . . an exciting brand,” said Gilbert. “We’re going to be extremely explosive on offense; we’re going to be extremely physical on defense; we’re going to play great and sound on special teams.
“We want to score a lot of points. We want to set those cannons off a lot of times.”
But he knows more than anything else his program will be graded on wins and losses, a playoffs.
“At the end of the day I was brought in here to win games,” Gilbert said.
That starts with recruiting. Gilbert has already started talking to players who have committed to McNeese and looking over others. He hopes his days in Texas will help.
Details of Gilbert’s contract have not been completely finalized said Hemphill.