The Guy on the Other Sideline

The talk of the week leading up to the spring game was AState coach for a day Nick Bhardwaj, less talk focused on the opposite sideline where AState coach for 11 years Larry Lacewell stood.

It is appropriate for Coach Lacewell to have received that honor as the spring game represents the start of the 100th season of AState football.

Just over 15% of all wins earned by AState in football came with him as coach over those eleven seasons he was at the helm. AState had four post-season appearances going 6-4 with one championship game appearance and never losing a first round game. AState picked up two conference titles with back-to-back championships in 1985 and 1986 but was denied the chance to go for a third straight as AState left the Southland Conference for the newly formed, non-football, American South Conference.

The football accomplishments under Coach Lacewell helped create a group of devoted fans, many who stuck through the darkest days of the 1990's and early 2000's. A last contribution as many of those fans often had little reason to be hopeful for the future but for the experience of seeing Arkansas State effectively compete against schools like Memphis and Ole Miss as well as future FBS members like North Texas and ULM while he was leading the program. The belief that such success could be replicated again kept many of those fans engaged and the program going.

The lasting contributions do not end there.

As head coach he made the decision to emphasize black as a school color to differentiate from the University of Arkansas before the marketing gurus and their stacks of research data declared that black was a color to emphasize in marketing. Years later new teams in pro sports used that data in their selection of team colors and 16 of the 25 new franchises in the big four leagues used black as a primary color.

While looking to replace the "Jumping Joe" logo on AState's helmets he was shown some drawings left by a former student and that logo today with some tweaks not only represents football and athletics but the entire university. Choosing those early sketches as the AState helmet logo lives on as the primary branding image of Arkansas State.

Under Coach Lacewell's leadership as athletic director, AState moved from the I-AA (FCS) football focused Southland Conference to the basketball focused American South that would later absorb the Sun Belt and become an FBS league.

Men's basketball made the NIT field, marking the first time AState participated in a post-season team event at the highest level of NCAA competition and two years later volleyball earned its first ever NCAA Division I post-season participation when the team was invited to the Women's Invitational Volleyball Classic.

During his tenure the Convocation Center was built. At the time the Convo was the largest indoor arena in the state of Arkansas.

Coach Lacewell's legacy also extends to the numerous student-athletes he brought to AState, many who have become supporters of the program as alumni. The list includes current Board of Trustees member Tim Langford and athletic director Terry Mohajir.

Since returning to Jonesboro in retirement, Coach Lacewell has been engaged in the AState athletic community. He has been involved in fund-raisers and was the first member of the Red Wolf 500.

AStatenation extends its thanks to Steve and Sharon Bryant for their contribution to the Red Wolf Foundation that brought Coach Lacewell back to the sidelines in this 100th season of AState football.