Demons Football Season Upended; Coach Resigns

NSU’s Turpin Stadium

National media coverage followed the surprising announcement on October 26, 2023, by Northwestern State president Dr. Marcus Jones that the university has canceled the rest of its football season due to the recent shooting death of junior safety Ronnie Caldwell.  Jones cited concerns for the mental health and well-being of its student-athletes as the primary reason for the decision.

Many of the country’s primary news and sports news platforms carried coverage of the decision, which generated extensive social media traffic and commentary.

Caldwell, a junior safety from Cedar Park, Texas, in the Austin metroplex, played in 11 games last year, starting 10, but had not played this season due to a foot injury. He traveled with the team in a student coaching capacity, helping other defensive backs with their technique and schemes, and working with coaching staff members in the press box during games. He was hoping to play in the final month of the season.

His death, in an October 12 early morning shooting where he lived at the Quad Apartment Complex across from campus, remains under investigation by the Natchitoches Police Department. Two men, one a former NSU teammate and the other a 27-year-old who was not an NSU student but was one of Caldwell’s roommates, have been arrested in connection with the case on drugs and weapons charges.

Northwestern cancelled its October 14 game at Nicholls but resumed its schedule October 19 at home in an emotionally charged game against Southeastern, briefly leading but dropping a 37-20 decision. Players not in uniform and team personnel wore black No. 23 t-shirts with Caldwell’s name, paying tribute to the business administration major who made the Southland Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll in 2022 for carrying at least a 3.0 grade point average during the season. This summer, Caldwell helped coach a local youth league team of 9-year-old boys.

Many players, coaches and team personnel traveled to Austin to attend Caldwell’s funeral, where head coach Brad Laird spoke.

“Ronnie was a beloved member of our community, and we miss him dearly,” said Jones. “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.”

On October 26, the school also announced the resignation of Laird, who was in his sixth season as coach after nine years at his alma mater as an assistant. Laird was a star quarterback for the Demons from 1991-96, and still holds the NSU career passing record. He is in the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame for his achievements at Ruston High School, where he was the quarterback on the Bearcats’ unbeaten 1990 state championship team, which earned a national No. 1 ranking from USA Today.

“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. “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.”

“We appreciate Coach Laird’s long-term investment in Northwestern State football. From his undergraduate time as a record-setting quarterback to his year spent overseeing the university’s alumni office to coaching, he has been a vital member of the team,” said Kevin Bostian, NSU’s athletic director. “While we are disappointed not to be able to finish the season, we are confident that better days lie ahead for Northwestern State football.”

Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, Weston Glaser, will step in as interim head coach while the athletic department begins an immediate search for its next head coach. However, the team will not practice, and it is unclear if any team activities will be held for the rest of the year. Counseling and other services are being made available to team members and others impacted, officials said.

A national search for a new head coach is already underway, officials said. Jones said there will be a 2024 season for NSU football.

Northwestern State University will hold Homecoming activities and events as planned November 3-4. 

In a message to the student body, Student Government Association President Bailey Willis said Homecoming week activities for students, the kick-off concert, lip sync, fun run, food drive and service day, will take place as planned. 

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