Author's Note: This is the second in a five-part series detailing coaches who deserve Coach of the Year Award consideration for the jobs they have done this season in turning around once-dismal programs. Part I can be found here.
The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns currently have eight wins, with one regular season game left to play. The last time the team had that many wins in a season was 1993. That was also the only other time in the last 20 years that ULL has finished with more than six wins.
Although the Ragin' Cajuns have been playing football at the FBS (formerly I-A) level since 1978, the team has never made a bowl game.
First-year head coach Mark Hudspeth has the team positioned to end that bowl drought this season.
Under Hudspeth, the team has experienced a coming-of-age, as they have begun to shake off the mediocrity that has plagued them in recent seasons. Out of the last 10 seasons, four of them ended with six wins (but no bowl game), while the rest were all losing seasons.
This season, the Ragin' Cajuns have finally gotten over the hump, and appear headed for their first FBS-level bowl game. They haven't guaranteed themselves a bowl yet, because the Sun Belt only has two bowl tie-ins, and if Western Kentucky beats Arkansas State and those two teams win the rest of their games, ULL would finish third in the conference and would have to hope for an at-large bid to a bowl.
The turnaround is due in large part to the efforts of Hudspeth, who is doing an awful lot of things right in his first year as the head coach of the Ragin' Cajuns. His players believe in him, and in themselves.
During a Sun Belt Conference game against Troy earlier this season, starting quarterback (and arguably the team's best player) Blaine Gautier was injured. Gautier is not only the team's leading passer, but also is second on the team in rushing yards. However, Hudspeth simply plugged in Chris Masson and the Ragin' Cajuns won again.
Not only do Hudspeth's players believe in him, but so do the team's fans. Last season the team averaged a measly 17,383 fans in attendance per game. This season, the lowest attendance for any ULL home game was 26,339.
Hudspeth has turned the Ragin' Cajuns into a team to be reckoned with, and has managed to build strong fan support for the team as well.
Any coach who can make believers out of a team with no history and a fanbase historically lacking reasons to cheer deserves some serious consideration for Coach of the Year.