by Doug Ireland

So this is 2023. So far, so good, just a short while into the New Year. As always, half the teams that played yesterday won, and boy, what a great way to start this year. The other half lost, and there are varied reactions, ranging from “we’ll bounce back” to “we need a new coach.”

In almost every case, there’s something to look forward to with eager anticipation, and that’s part of what makes sports fun. There’s almost always hope. We walk into the stadium or gym or grandstand, or settle into our folding chairs, or our easy chairs, hoping for excitement and enjoyment.

Same is true walking into a concert or a movie or a play, but there aren’t usually winners or losers at those events. There’s more of a leap of faith being a sports fan, wearing your team’s colors, putting your emotions out there for all to see, risking your sanity.

And it can turn on a dime – just a moment ago, in the Fiesta Bowl, TCU ran back an interception for a third-quarter touchdown, and then Michigan quickly answered with a TD of its own. So what did TCU do? Wilt? Nope, raced downfield and scored AGAIN. “We’re doomed,” thought the Michigan fan. Then, “hey, we’re still in this thing! We’re gonna win!” Followed quickly by, “What the hell? Did that team just make some deal with the devil? This can’t be happening to US?” The see-sawing continued. TCU celebrated. Michigan grumbled and will for months.

A big reason TCU celebrated? Bud Clark, former ASH Trojan (Class of 2019), started the Horned Frogs’ scoring with a 41-yard pick-six (translated = interception return). You’ll see him against Georgia in the national championship game Monday, January 9.

What can happen in sports? Almost anything, in the span of a few seconds or minutes in a game, or the duration of a season. Something you may always treasure. Something you might always groan about. That’s a big part of what makes sports fun.

What’s going to happen in 2023? Sometimes you have to look back to last year to make your best guess.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS – Lots of questions. Lots of injuries. New coach. No playoffs. No Sean Payton return looming. GM Mickey Loomis may retire. Lots of questions. Not many easy answers. Patience required. But what is a Saints fan, but if not patient?

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS – Not the baseball team. News flash — there’s an NBA team down there, and after years of trying, the Pels are awfully good. If you’re not on the bandwagon, there’s room. You can thank me later. It’ll be fun. A very well coached, talented, young team.

LSU TIGERS FOOTBALL – Few if any experts thought LSU would do as well as it did in 2022. Brian Kelly pushed a lot of the right buttons. Better news for Tiger fans is the future. Arrow definitely pointing up.

LSU TIGERS BASKETBALL – Ironically, Will Wade got fired for doing what is NOW legal, basically. Not that coaches line up NIL deals, but boosters do, Gordon McKashcow and the like. So be it. LSU now has a BETTER coach, one who will never make the Tigers cringe. Plugging into NIL will be key.

LSU TIGERS WOMEN’S BASKETBALL – There is no better college basketball coach than Kim Mulkey. This season’s non-conference schedule was a walk in the park, but the destruction of a ranked Arkansas team in the SEC opener showed Mulkey will have a formidable, young team. She’s also one of the great recruiters in the game. Final Fours are on the horizon. Cleveland, Tampa, Phoenix from ’24-’27.

LSU TIGERS BASEBALL – Speaking of NIL, there’s a deep pool for Tiger baseball and it’s paying dividends. Jay Johnson learned the SEC ropes last year. Now he has a College World Series-caliber roster. If the Tigers aren’t back in Omaha often in the next several seasons, beginning this June, it will be stunning. Safest bet on this board.

LCU ATHLETICS – Reni Mason is one of the finest folks around. Mike Byrnes is a tremendous baseball coach. They are cornerstones for the Wildcats’ entire athletic program and that bodes well for LCU.

LSUA ATHLETICS – At some point, some NCAA Division I program is going to give Larry Codero a chance. Until then, the Generals’ athletic program will continue to boast a nationally-competitive men’s basketball team.

NORTHWESTERN STATE FOOTBALL – The man for the job is there. The schedule for success, and resources, are lacking. Brad Laird’s 2022 team played for the Southland championship in each of its last two games and fell short, but considering they played all season without a strength coach – how does that happen? – the job Laird and his team did was impressive. Unfortunately, they have to open ’23 going to UL Lafayette and Louisiana Tech in paycheck games, so an 0-2 start in an 11-game season is a tall hurdle. There’s a good young staff in place. Expect them to be competitive in the Southland again, which is NOT something NSU should take for granted.

NSU BASKETBALL – Mike McConathy’s departure after 23 seasons left a gaping void at Northwestern, not just in the men’s basketball program, but in campus morale, and the bigger picture past athletics. Give new coach Corey Gipson great credit for his approach – “I wasn’t hired to replace Mike McConathy. I was hired to coach this basketball team,” he said – and for the retooling of the roster. It’s the way of the world in college sports, the transfer portal, and the Demons are a postseason contender this spring because Gipson and staff used it well. Anna Nimz and her Lady Demons are trying for the same level of success, but didn’t have three cornerstone seniors to bring in like Gipson did.

NSU SPRING SPORTS – Donald Pickett and Bobby Barbier continually have NSU in the thick of conference races in softball and baseball, pulling off impressive non-conference wins, and continually improving their facilities. Mike Heimerman’s track program is national-caliber in some events each year. Jonas Brobek won a Southland title in his second season as head tennis coach. No worries here, just optimism.

(Obviously, with my deep ties to Northwestern, I went a little deeper with the Demons).

There’s so much more to anticipate, but for now, let’s end with an appreciation.

Randy Benson died just before Christmas, aged 62, in his home state of Indiana, after a series of medical challenges. His stepchildren are working here, starting the new year saddened by the loss of their father, their biggest supporter. You might remember him.

Randy was for a few years sports editor at The Town Talk, but he was so much more to his co-workers, and to those who he came into contact with during his time here. He was a friend, a devoted husband and father, and an all-around good guy.

The last words on Randy come from the legendary Alexandria colleague, Bob Tompkins, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame writer.

“He was more than fair and accommodating … he loved journalism, he loved his family and loved the relationships he forged with different people he covered throughout his career. May God grant him eternal peace.”

Randy certainly has the eternal respect of people in sports in Cenla. Rest well, sir.

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