Turning Things Around

FAYTETTEVILLE --It really should come as no surprise Louisiana-Monroe is quickly turning things around with its football program.

Actually, a no-brainer.

Probably, in large part, because of coach Charlie Weatherbie.

Weatherbie, in his third season, is becoming an old hand at fixing things, rebuilding programs.

He did it at Utah State, he did it at Navy.

Since Weatherbie arrived on the Monroe, La., campus, the Indians have made significant strides in a short amount of time improving from 1-11 to 5-6 in just a year.

And ...

ULM, which went 5-6 in 1999, 1-10 in 2000, 2-9 in 2001 and 3-9 in 2002, needed someone like Weatherbie, who took over the program less than three months before the 2003 season.

Good move.

Louisiana-Monroe is off to its best league start (2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference) since 1993 when it was in the Southland Conference.

Louisiana-Monroe is coming off a 31-27 win against Arkansas State on Saturday night in a key early season Sun Belt Conference showdown.

"That was an exciting game," Weatherbie said. "It could have gone either way at the end. It just happened to go our way."

Weatherbie said he hopes that trend continues when his team meets Arkansas at 6 p.m. Saturday in a nonconference game in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

"I anticipate them playing their tails off," said Weatherbie, a former Arkansas assistant (1991). "They are a good football team, a very talented football team. Run the ball very well.

"They are a team on defense which is going to hit you, come and get you.

"I know they should have beaten Vanderbilt (Arkansas lost 28-24 on Sept. 10), just by watching the video. They should have won at least one more game. They played Alabama's tails off (Alabama won 24-13 on Sept. 24) and Alabama spanked Florida (31-3) this past weekend. I don't think Arkansas' record (1-3) shows what type of football team they have.

"I expect them to play their hearts out."

In ULM's game against Arkansas State, senior quarterback Steven Jyles was the difference maker. He had four completed passes and one run in 46 seconds which ignited the victory.

In that span of time, Jyles led ULM on a six-play, 68-yard drive, finalized by his 2-yard touchdown run with 36 seconds.

Louisiana-Monroe improved to 2-3 overall.

Arkansas is the second Southeastern Conference team the Indians have faced this season. ULM lost 44-7 at Georgia on Sept. 17.

It opened the season with a 27-23 loss against Northwestern (La.) State at home, then lost 38-0 at Wyoming.

On Sept. 22, ULM won 28-21 at Florida Atlantic.

"We've played some good football at times," Weatherbie said. "It's encouraging to see. Things are starting to fall into place."

Again, that should come as no surprise based solely on Weatherbie's track record.

He became Utah State's coach in 1992. In his first year, his team went 5-6. In his second year, it went 7-5.

At Utah State, he inherited a program that had not had a winning season in 12 years. In only his second season, Weatherbie took the Aggies to their first Big West Conference championship in 15 years, their first bowl game in 32 years and their first bowl victory ever, beating Ball (Ind.) State 42-33 in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl.

In 1995, he went to the United States Naval Academy. Again he found almost-immediate success. His first team went 5-6 after it had won nine games the previous four seasons combined.

The Midshipmen, who had suffered through 12 consecutive losing seasons prior to Weatherbie's arrival, went 9-3 in '96 and won the Aloha Bowl.

The nine wins were the most by Navy teams in 18 years. At the time, he was just the third coach in academy history to win a bowl game.

In 1997, Weatherbie led Navy to a 7-4 record, the first time since the 1981-82 seasons the Middies had compiled back-to-back winning seasons.

So, what gives? What's Weatherbie's secret?

"There's no doubt I've been blessed to have the opportunity ... good Lord has given me the opportunities," Weatherbie said. "I've worked under some great coaches and had some great coaches in previous staffs before me and we've always been able to recruit well and we've have had some good players to build from, to work from."

"I've just been very blessed. It's been a lot of fun."

And it looks like the fun really has just begun at ULM, where Weatherbie already has put a lot of building blocks in place.

Two of them are Jyles and 6-foot-6 junior wide receiver Drouzon Quillen.

That tandem tore the Arkansas secondary apart last year. Jyles was 13 of 31 for 298 yards and 2 interceptions in a 49-20 loss against the Hogs on Sept. 18, 2004, also in Little Rock.

Quillen had 3 catches for 127 yards against the Razorbacks. His longest pass play of the season was a 77-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against Arkansas.

Jyles came into his senior season not only the Sun Belt Conference's 2004 season total offense champion but the league's career total yardage leader with 7,563 yards.

Here's the book on Quillen:

Last year, he was ULM's receiving leader and No. 7 in the Sun Belt with 44 catches for 758 yards and a 4.0 catch-per-game average. His average of 17.2 yards a catch was the highest among the conference's 10 leading receivers and his 7 touchdowns were No. 3 among league leaders.

Get this. He had 11 plays of 20 yards or more.

Weatherbie said having good talent is the secret to rebuilding any program. And he said Louisiana is loaded with talent.

"They're a lot of good kids in the state of Louisiana," Weatherbie said. "That's one of the things that impressed me, that I looked at, before I took this job.

"If you have skilled players that allow you to throw and catch the football, then that's what you do. If you have smaller linemen, like we had at Navy, then you tend to do things that allow you to have success running the ball.

"No. 1 state represented in the NFL, per capita, is the state of Louisiana. No 3. in the NFL overall is the state of Louisiana. There's a lot of fine football players that come out of the state of Louisiana that are capable of going on to the next level.

"We do have some exceptional players that are some great skilled players from south to north, from east to west.

"We've got some fine football players."

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