UPDATE: ‘When you bury a teammate there is no playbook,’ Northwestern State coach says before resigning

Published 5:40 pm Thursday, October 26, 2023

The strangest season in McNeese State history reached a new level of bizarre Thursday afternoon.

The Cowboys’ Homecoming game set for Saturday night against longtime rival Northwestern State was canceled in the aftermath of the shooting death of Demon defensive back Ronnie Caldwell Jr.

The Demons have canceled the rest of their season and head coach Brad Laird has resigned after six seasons at the helm.

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“Very unfortunate,” McNeese head coach Gary Goff said. “It is a sad situation. Our thoughts and prayers are for everybody involved.

“For us, it is what it is and we have to move on. There is nothing we can do about it.”

Goff was informed of the news just before he was headed to a team meeting and called off Thursday’s practice.

“They are very disappointed,” Goff said of his team. “They wanted to play the game. I just thought it was best not to practice today.”

McNeese will get back to work on Friday and Saturday. As for Homecoming, the events will go on as planned with the court being presented at the final home game on Nov. 11 against Houston Christian.

“This is very disappointing for all of us,” said McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer. “I feel for the Northwestern State players, coaches, and administrators for what they are going through. I’m also disappointed for our fans. I am with them in wanting to see the game. Hopefully, we can move on from this and finish the season strong.”

The game will go down officially as a forfeit victory for the Cowboys, their first win of the season.

“It will be a victory in the conference standings,” Southland Conference Commissioner Chris Grant confirmed to the American Press.

Schroyer said that if the decision by Northwestern State had been made earlier in the week he would have tried to find a game to play.

“I would have found somebody, an NAIA school, Division II, anybody to keep our home game,” he said.

The decision by Northwestern State came just two weeks after Caldwell was found dead in the early hours of Oct. 12. The Demons immediately canceled their game for the following Saturday at Nicholls but played a week later at home against Southeastern.

“Ronnie was a beloved member of our community, and we miss him dearly,” NSU President Marcus Jones said in a statement. “While our instinct was to return to the field of play following his death, we’ve since learned that the hurt on our team was too deep. Now it is in the best interest of our players, coaches, and staff to pause and to take this time to mourn, to heal, and to support Ronnie’s family.”

According to several sources, only 40 players showed up for Wednesday’s Demon practice and two assistant coaches were also absent.

Wednesday morning Laird talked to the American Press for a previously arranged interview. At the time he said in a very somber voice that his team was hurting but he wanted to help them get through this and finish the season strong.

“My focus is on the players and not wins and losses,” Laird said. “We are in uncharted waters and trying to figure out how we get through this together.

“When you bury a teammate there is no playbook. Everybody grieves in their own way.”

That seemed to change on Thursday.

“Due to the loss of Ronnie and the emotional burden it has caused me, I don’t feel I can give my all to these players or this program,” Laird said in the NSU statement. “Any coach will tell you that their players become like family, so the loss of Ronnie was like losing a son. I love this program and this university and I know it will persevere and move forward with the competitive spirit that is at the core of our DNA.”

According to Natchitoches Police, they have arrested two people related to the Caldwell death. John McIntosh, Caldwell’s roommate, had been previously arrested for possession of a firearm and in possession of a controlled substance.

Last Friday Demon defensive tackle Maurice Campbell was arrested for obstruction of justice among other charges. The Natchitoches Police say the investigation into the shooting remains ongoing.

The cancellation is the first for McNeese since the 2005 season when Hurricane Rita wiped out a pair of games and forced the Cowboys to play a home contest ironically at Northwestern State.

“Another bizarre element of this year,” said Goff. “I have never been in a season when a game was canceled.”

McNeese, along with most of FCS programs, did have their seasons of 2020 moved from the fall to the following spring and shortened due to COVID.

“We were excited to play but we can’t control this,” said Goff. “Our focus now has to be on Southwestern.

McNeese will travel to Hammond to play the Lions on Nov. 4 and has three games remaining.

As for Northwestern State’s future, that is very much up in the air.