Is ULM Warhawks’ Matt Viator this year’s Neal Brown?
Despite hiring a new head coach, 2016 was more of the dismal same for the Texas State Bobcats. A sudden rash of dismissals and defections puts the Bobcats season in even deeper doubt. We explore:
You can argue (and likely win said argument) that 2012 was the “Golden Year” of Warhawks football. Led by 3rd year coach Todd Berry, ULM opened the season against #8 Arkansas and won 34-31 in overtime. The next week, Auburn needed every bit of overtime to best the Warhawks 31-28. In Week 3, ULM fell in an epic shootout to Baylor 47-41, and then finished the OOC schedule with a dominating 63-10 victory over Tulane.
Those super-Warhawks would go 6-2 in the Sun Belt, and if Berry had been savvy, he’d had used that burst of success to steam out of Monroe. Instead, he proved Harvey Dent’s theory that heroes live just long enough to become the villain, and he was unceremoniously fired mid-season in 2015.
The hero Monroe needs (but didn’t deserve) is Matt Viator, who went 78-33 in ten years at McNeese State. Viator improved the Warhawks marginally his first year. Can he find the same magic Year 2 recipe for resurrection as Neal Brown did at Troy?
Viator and Brown are brothers from different mothers!
That’s hyperbole – neither man looks remotely like the other – but similarities do exist. For example, both were hired to be first-time FBS head coaches. And both were asked to take the helm of flagging programs. Check out my chart!
|Coach||Prev Year||Year 1||Year 2|
|Neal Brown (Troy)||3-9||4-8||10-3|
|Matt Viator (ULM)||2-11||4-8||??|
Brown parlayed a 4-8 season into a 10-3 year and a brush with the AP Top 25. Is Viator about to follow suite?
The Warhawks are trending up
ULM didn’t enjoy many highlights in 2016. Nearly every one of the team’s 8 losses were blowouts. The Warhawks ranked 119th in total defense, surrendering 480 yards per game to opponents. Worst of all, ULM lost to in-state rival Louisiana Ragin Cajuns 30-3 to end the year.
But there is good news. RB Thomas Koufie and RB Ben Luckett are back, and the tandem combined for 880 yards and 14 TDs in 2016. They’ll continue to have success behind a meaty offensive line anchored by 6’3″ 315lb senior offensive guard Frank Sutton.
But wait, there are more positives! Three of the Warhawks top receivers return, too. Yes, the defense wasn’t great last year, but nine starters return, a year wiser. The run defense can only improve, right?
An intriguing addition to the team is a transfer from Alabama, RB Derrick Gore. Listed at 5’11” 210, Gore found himself stuck on special teams while the likes of Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough stole the show. Now he gets a chance to shine for Viator.
But the biggest asset to the offense might be the return of QB Garett Smith, who had 1,200 yards and 9 TDs before receiving a season-ending injury in Week 6. Smith will lead a team confidently attired in these bad boys.
Garret Smith is no Brandon Silvers. Kouffie and Lucket can’t match the production of Jordan Chunn. The Warhawks haven’t a single receiver with the skills of Deondre Douglas and Emmanuel Thompson. Troy has 3 All-Sun Belt players on defense. ULM has zero.
It doesn’t appear that the Warhawks are a breakout program in 2017, though Gore’s arrival, Smith’s return and the experience on defense suggests that improvement is on the horizon. It also helps that Viator snagged the conference’s 3rd best recruiting class in 2017. Good things – possible even 6-6 things – are happening in Monroe.
But it won’t be Neal Brown things.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.