LAKE CHARLES — The roller coaster that has become McNeese State athletics went for yet another wild ride Monday.
Bruce Hemphill was fired as Athletic Director after almost seven years of leading the Cowboy athletic program. Officially, Hemphill has been re-assigned special adviser to the president until the end of June when his contract expires.
Tanner Stines, senior associate athletics director for administration and operations, will serve as interim Athletic Director.
“This decision was not made in haste,” said McNeese president Dr. Daryl Burckel. “I decided we needed new leadership.
“McNeese athletics is on solid footing and moving forward.”
Hemphill’s dismissal comes just 10 days after the school introduced Frank Wilson as its third head football coach in the past 13 months. Now the school is looking for a new AD.
“Our vision for the university, including the athletics department, is to be first choice in every effort, every endeavor, every experience,” Burckel said. “In order for McNeese athletics to move forward and reach the next level, I have determined that a change in leadership is necessary.
Burckel made it clear it was his decision.
“I made the change,” he said. “This was my decision.”
Hemphill was hired in June of 2013 and saw over school’s expansion in facilities during his tenure. The crown jewel is the new on-campus basketball facility that has led to a rebirth of the basketball program, which currently leads the Southland Conference in attendance after years of playing in front of friends and family.
Upgrades have also taken place in baseball and softball facilities along with football.
“We have great facilities and great coaches here at McNeese,” said Burckel. “We are in no hurry to make this hire. What we want is the right person for the university.”
There is some cleaning up to do. The football program was put on academic postseason suspension for at least this fall by the NCAA. That’s the first time any McNeese team has suffered such a fate.
There was also the hiring of Lance Guidry as head football after the 2015 season. While it was hailed at the time as a big win by local fans it did not work out as Guidry’s tenure ended after three years of no playoffs and poor academic showing by players which directly led to the playoff suspension. Guidry’s replacement, Sterlin Gilbert, left after just one year at the helm of the Cowboys to become offensive coordinator at Syracuse, leading to Wilson’s hiring.
The academic troubles of the football team was sited as “part of the overall evaluation,” Burckel took at looking at the athletic department.
“It wasn’t just one thing,” Burckel said. “It’s just the direction I feel we need to go in.”
Two things Burckel said he was most looking for in a new athletic director was the ability to sell McNeese to the community and be a solid fund raiser.
“I don’t believe our fund raising has been up to par,” Burckel said. “We want somebody to help us and help stabilize the fund raising and entire athletic department.
“The next person is going to have to cast a vision to take our athletic program to the next level.”
What that next level is is completely unclear. Burckel did not rule out McNeese eventually moving up to the top football division in the future, the way Louisiana-Lafayette and other former Southland Conference teams have done.
“That is something we will look at but first we have to stabilize our programs now,” he said. “You also have to have a place to move up into. But certainly we would like to get somebody that has experience in a lot of things and ideas in where to go.”
Over the past few years Hemphill has struggled with his health, having fought throat cancer and suffering a heart attack last summer.
“I have accepted the offer to be Special Adviser to the President for Athletics and Special Projects for the next few months as we prepare for the transition to a new director of athletics,” Hemphill said in a statement. “I have been blessed these six and a half years as the McNeese director of athletics. It has been the most memorable and best time of my life. We accomplished much during this time from increasing fundraising, new and improved facilities, conference championships and Southland Conference honors to having successful and respected coaches and student athletes.
“McNeese athletics is on an upward trajectory and I know that I am leaving our teams and coaches in good hands. I am grateful for the many relationships that have been made, especially with our coaches and student-athletes. I pray each day that they will continue to grow personally and professionally as productive citizens and leaders in our communities.
“I wish nothing but the best for McNeese, especially McNeese athletics.”
During Hemphill’s tenure as McNeese athletics director, the Cowboys and Cowgirls have won nine Southland Conference regular season championships, five SLC tournament titles and in 2017-2018 McNeese athletics placed third in the Commissioner’s Cup, the highest finish in school history.