You could be forgiven for thinking of Louisiana-Monroe as only a middle-of-the-pack program in the Sun Belt Conference, because that’s largely what they’ve been of late.
They’ve made one regional appearance since 2000, and that was in a season when they finished tied for fifth in the league, but got hot in the conference tournament and won the league’s automatic bid into the postseason. They’ve only finished above .500 in league play once in the last ten seasons (to be fair, that one season was 2008, and they won the regular season title with a 20-10 mark), and since 2009, they’ve finished no better than fifth in the conference.
But it wasn’t so long ago that ULM was the type of mid-major that punched above its weight and challenged to get into regionals year after year.
Between 1995 and 2000 (as a member of the Southland Conference), under head coach Smoke Laval, who later succeeded the legendary Skip Bertman upon Bertman’s retirement at LSU, the Warhawks, who were known during much of that time as the Northeast Louisiana University Indians, went to three regionals, including to the final of the 2000 Baton Rouge Regional, and won 33 or more games each season.
Getting back to those types of results is what new head coach Michael Federico will be tasked with, and he hasn’t shied away from those expectations.
“This program has won championships, been to regionals, and had big leaguers,” Federico was quoted as saying in a piece by Adam Hunsucker of The News Star. “It’s been proven and I know it can happen again. Our plan is to win with attitude, playing hard and getting after people’s tails.”
It’s not going to be an overnight turnaround. The Sun Belt is a conference featuring established players on a national level, most notably recent national champion Coastal Carolina and perennial regional teams Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama, the recruiting landscape is crowded in the region, and perhaps most of all, ULM has really struggled of late, capped off by a 12-43 season in 2017.
But Federico has a resume that suggests he’s a good candidate to get the job done.
Most recently, he spent seven years as an assistant coach under Scott Berry at Southern Miss. The Eagles exist in a space where ULM would like to be. They don’t get the absolute cream of the crop in recruiting, but they get their fair share of quality players down in SEC country, they’re a fixture in regionals, and they broke through and made a College World Series appearance in 2009.
Before that, he was an assistant at Memphis between 2005 and 2009, helping build the Tigers team that got into a regional in 2007.
And while this appears to be a ground-up build for Federico, he certainly has some things working for him. If that wasn’t the case, there probably wouldn’t have been so much interest in the job opening. Before Federico was selected, the likes of Laval (looking to make a return to Monroe), former Oklahoma and Auburn head coach Sunny Golloway, and former Louisiana Tech and Alabama head coach Greg Goff, among others, were said to have interest in the job.
While the recruiting landscape can be a negative because it’s so competitive, programs like McNeese, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Miss, South Alabama, and ULL prove that you don’t have to be in the SEC to get quality players. He also has a quality facility on his hands in Warhawk Field, and the fans regularly fill the place, with ULM often averaging more than 1,000 fans per game, certainly not a bad figure for a mid-major program that’s not a perennial regional team.
ULM’s program has gone through some tough times, but there are pieces in place for the program to win again. They’re just waiting on the right coach to lead them there, and they certainly hope that coach is Michael Federico.