Born and raised in southwestern Louisiana’s small blue-collar town of Welsh, Lance Guidry treats all McNeese players—past and present—like family. Some of that stems from his upbringing. It also helps that he’s a former all-conference defensive back for the Cowboys.
Last week, the first-year McNeese head coach had to leave his football family leading up to its game at Northwestern State following the death of two loved ones. His older brother, Larry, died unexpectedly shortly before a 35-0 loss to Central Arkansas on Oct. 15. Two days later, his 92-year-old grandfather, Louis Landry, passed away.
After the death of his grandfather, Guidry went home to comfort his heartbroken family. Longtime McNeese assistant Lark Hebert served as acting head coach until Guidry rejoined his players and coaches at the team hotel on Oct. 21. The next day, McNeese rolled to a 48-27 win over Northwestern State to improve to 4-4 this season.
“With everything that happened, I had to put my emotions on the back burner,” said the 45-year-old Guidry. “I loved my brother and grandfather, but my mother lost her dad and son, my grandma lost her husband and grandson and my niece lost her daddy. I needed to be there for them, but it was nice to get back to coaching and find some normalcy after a tough week.”
An emotional Guidry gathered his players and coaches together on the field after the Cowboys won in their best offensive game of the season. He was presented with the game ball but refused to take it.
Instead, Guidry gave it to Hebert to thank him for preparing the Cowboys in his absence.
“I don’t take gifts very well,” Guidry said. “I know they wanted to win that game for me, but I didn’t feel like I deserved the game ball. Coach Hebert picked up the slack, held things together and handled everything how I wanted. He deserved it. Winning the game was enough for me.”
Given what Guidry had endured, McNeese quarterback James Tabary wanted to give his coach something to celebrate. The Arkansas State transfer delivered as he passed for a career-high 384 yards and three touchdowns in the win, which was capped by Jermaine Antoine’s 70-yard interception return for a score with 1:35 to play.
“I’ve never met a man like coach Guidry, who is so passionate and gives you chills whenever you hear him talk,” Tabary said. “He’s such a great person on and off the field and a father figure for all of us. To see him struggle after losing two family members was absolutely horrible. We won that game for him.”
The death of Guidry’s brother was especially difficult as the two shared a room for all 18 years they lived together in their parents’ three-bedroom home in Welsh. Larry left to join the Army, where he honorably served for 23 years with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Larry retired from the Army in 2010 and had been working as a civil servant for the U.S. government in Georgia until his death.
“My wife found out he had died and told me about three hours before the Central Arkansas game,” Guidry said. “I was into the game at times, and sometimes my mind was somewhere else. We played a tough team and had our worst game of the year, but I know my brother would have wanted me to coach because he always had my back and was my biggest fan along with my dad.”
Losing his grandfather two days later was another tough blow.
“My grandfather was a hard worker who worked until he was 82,” Guidry said. “He was everything Americans should be and part of the moral fiber of our country. He taught me to feel good about the work that you did and work for what you want.”
Guidry obviously inherited his grandfather’s work ethic. The former McNeese graduate assistant worked his way up the Louisiana high school coaching ranks before stints with the Cowboys as their defensive coordinator (2000-04) and defensive backs coach (2008).
That was followed by two-year stretches as Miami (Ohio) University’s defensive backs coach and Western Kentucky’s defensive coordinator. He also received national attention for his fiery pregame bowl speeches as interim head coach of both programs. He guided Miami to a win over Middle Tennessee in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl, while WKU fell to Central Michigan in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Guidry returned to McNeese in 2013 as its defensive coordinator. Last year the Cowboys had an undefeated regular season with one of the nation’s top defenses and won their Southland Conference-record 14th league title before falling to SLC rival Sam Houston State in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Elevated to head coach after Matt Viator took the top job at Sun Belt Conference school ULM, Guidry returned 13 starters from a 10-1 team and earned a preseason top-25 ranking. The Cowboys (4-4, 3-3 SLC) lost two of their first three games but have won three of the last five going into Saturday’s homecoming game against Abilene Christian (1-7, 1-5) on ASN.
McNeese won four conference championships and made five playoff appearances in Viator’s 10 seasons but hasn’t had a postseason victory since 2002. That season the Cowboys—with Guidry as their defensive coordinator—advanced to the FCS national title game.
There’s no need to rebuild the program, but Guidry sees room for improvement.
“We’ve been very successful here for a while but need a little different mindset if we want to win in the playoffs and win a national championship,” Guidry said. “I’ve set my goals very high and have a big goal in mind. We might not get there this year, but I think we’re continuing to make progress.”
As Guidry works toward the ultimate goal of winning a national championship, he will continue to honor his departed brother and grandfather.
“I’ll carry them with me forever,” Guidry said.