NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State football coach Jay Thomas has added former Southeastern Louisiana head coach and longtime Sam Houston State coordinator
Mike Lucas as defensive coordinator, LSU assistant August Mangin as special teams coordinator and promoted acclaimed offensive line coach Ben Norton to offensive coordinator among several changes to the Demons staff.
Lucas and Mangin joined the staff earlier this month. The Demons, who won three of their last four to finish 6-6 in Thomas's first year, opened spring practice Tuesday, and will finish the week with the first four of 15 workouts completed.
Norton, who has seven years of experience as a coordinator in a 20-year coaching career marked by championship success at three other Southland institutions, will continue to work with the offensive line while taking over game-planning and play-calling.
The moves resulted from the unrelated departures a few weeks apart of offensive coordinator Robby Brown to South Alabama, defensive coordinator Chris Boone to Samford in his home state of Alabama, and special teams coordinator Shep Campbell to private business in Little Rock.
"We've changed names on the coordinator titles but we're not making a lot of changes to our schemes," said Thomas. "What we did last year was very good and our players have completely bought into the system. Mike and August bring fresh perspectives and proven approaches that we'll blend in, but we've got momentum and there's every reason to keep rolling down the track we're on, fundamentally doing what we've done since last spring."
Lucas, the 2009 All-Louisiana Coach of the Year, was head coach at Southeastern from 2007-11 after two seasons as the Lions' defensive coordinator. He earned a reputation as a dynamic DC under iconic coach Ron Randleman from 1987-2001 at Sam Houston State. Lucas spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Indiana State and earlier in his career coached at his alma mater, Liberty, along with William and Mary, UTEP, and Eastern New Mexico.
"We're very fortunate to get a coach the caliber of Mike Lucas. The things he brings to the table are far-reaching," said Thomas. "He's been in the Southland Conference for over 20 seasons, five as a head coach. He's recruited where we recruit. He was tough to compete against on the field and on the recruiting trail, and he's a first-class gentleman who will fit well with our staff and in our community. It's a blessing for us to get this type of coach and man."
Lucas has been known for his success using a 3-3-5 defensive alignment but Thomas said the Demons will maintain their aggressive posture out of a 4-3-4 base that had NSU ranked second in the Southland in total defense in 2013.
"We've always played great defense at Northwestern, and we'll keep intact the Purple Swarm tradition. Coach Lucas is having to do the big share of learning but there's no doubt he will blend in things he believes in that fit our personnel. We're always looking to enhance what we're doing if it fits into the wheelhouse of what our guys are best suited to execute," he said.
Mangin played at LSU from 2005-09 on special teams, helping the Tigers win the 2007 BCS National Championship under head coach Les Miles. He was on the Demons' staff for the 2011 season, working with tight ends and special teams, and for the past two years worked with special teams and the offensive coaching staff at LSU. He has a master's in sport administration from Northwestern (2012).
"August is a young guy who makes an impression on you. When I was here as an assistant and he was a graduate assistant, you knew he had something special about him," said Thomas. "He went back to LSU and really progressed as a coach. Coach Miles didn't want to lose him, and they made a great effort to keep him in Baton Rouge, but the opportunity we have here was fortunately good enough for him to come back on board with the Demons.
"He's going to develop into a rising star in our business and has worked with some tremendous special teams coaches who can give him advice. You have to have people like that to call upon," said Thomas. "In a lot of the games we lost last season, we had critical errors in the kicking game, and some of that we can hopefully address schematically. August fits well into our staff, and will be impressive and comfortable in our community."
Norton helped Sam Houston State, McNeese and Texas State capture Southland Conference championships and make FCS playoff appearances while on staff, serving as co-offensive coordinator at McNeese in 2005-06 and at Texas State from 2007-10. He has developed eight All-America offensive linemen and 27 all-conference players, while winning six championships with seven teams that finished in the FCS Top 25 and reached postseason play.
Coaching position assignments have shifted for some of the holdover staff members, said Thomas. Devon Lockett expanded his role from cornerbacks coach to secondary coach, and Mangin will assist him. Lucas will coach linebackers.
Derrick Foster moved from coaching running backs to receivers, the position he played collegiately. Jackson Dean, a graduate assistant, will work with tight ends while second-year assistant Will Weaver moves from coaching tight ends to running backs.
Kyle Manley, last year's receivers coach, will be assistant offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, working closely with Norton as he did with Brown in 2013 as the Demons set school records for passing yards and touchdowns.
"Having those guys helping run our offense last year gives everybody involved great confidence," said Thomas. "Moving Kyle to coach quarterbacks, a position he played at Georgia Tech, was an obvious decision. Coach Norton has been in the coordinator's position before and was very successful in that capacity. Ben had a big impact on our success last season and after years competing against him, it was great having him on my side.
"It's going to be a great move for us and what we're doing will get better and better as we go along. We'll have the up tempo approach with the ability to go at different speeds depending on the game situation, just as we did last year," said Thomas, noting that NSU set season records for passing yards and touchdown passes.
Bringing Lucas in as defensive coordinator and promoting Norton in charge of the offense gives the Demons proven, accomplished veterans who have won championships in the Southland Conference. They coached together at Sam Houston State from 1999-2001.
"It's unique that by adding Mike Lucas and promoting Ben Norton, we're actually more experienced than we were with our coordinators last season, and both of those guys who moved east were not wet behind the ears by any means, and were very good for us," said Thomas.
Lucas and Mangin have been brought in on an interim basis and their additions are subject to approval by the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, which includes Northwestern.