How Terry Bowden's brand refresh can help Louisiana-Monroe regain relevance in Shreveport

Adam Hunsucker
Monroe News-Star

The sales pitch ended with a call to action.

Terry Bowden is trading in hope. That will have to do while the football program he’s building at Louisiana-Monroe remains in its infancy. On Tuesday night, Bowden urged a captive audience of Shreveport alumni and boosters to do their part to turn a perennial loser into a Sun Belt Conference champion.

A passionate local made his opinion known, “We want to win it!”

“You’re dadgum right we want to win this conference,” Bowden responded. “So let’s go out and support our program like every other team in the conference. You clapped at that — so now let’s go support and put our money where our mouth is.”

Bowden had the room in the palm of his hand. The real trick is doing the same in a dormant market.

Shreveport is the third-most populated city in Louisiana, trailing only Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Yet despite its proximity to Monroe — around 100 miles — and fertile recruiting terrain, ULM’s presence is almost nonexistent sans a small, but passionate pocket of support.

It’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle for Tag Rome, a ULM Hall of Fame player and former assistant football coach. Rome recruited the Shreveport area during the school’s former life as Northeast Louisiana University. Hall of Fame coach and Shreveport-native Pat Collins scheduled a scrimmage in the city each year during his national championship tenure.

Notable names from the area who starred at ULM include Stan Humphries, Stepfret Williams, Raymond Philyaw, Pat Dennis and Calvin Dawson.

The brand is dormant now in comparison, swallowed hole by LSU and Louisiana Tech. Want to catch ULM football on the radio in Shreveport? You can’t. Not one terrestrial station in northwestern Louisiana carries the broadcast.

“I don’t know how many thousand alums we have in this area, but we do have them,” said Rome, who operates multiple State Farm Insurance agencies in Shreveport and Bossier City.

“There just hasn’t been that engagement and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It just means we have to get their interest up.”

This is where Bowden comes in. He’s spent the past month barnstorming across the I-20 corridor alongside ULM President Ron Berry selling his gridiron refresh. The “Berry-Bowden Roadshow” began at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on May 18.

While Terry’s demeanor echoes his father, Florida State legend Bobby Bowden, the bravado matches one of Bobby’s fiercest rivals. Howard Schnellenberger created a startup dynasty at Miami with swagger and a keen sense of self promotion.  

“It seems like such an obvious thing for us to be in Shreveport,” Bowden said. “We’ve got great contacts over here and that’s exciting to me. If we’re not in Shreveport, we’re not doing our job in this part of Louisiana.”

Bowden brought backup to the Petroleum Club in Fox Sports broadcaster and noted local Tim Brando, a longtime friend and family confidante. Brando attended ULM, then NLU, in the 1970s and was one of the featured speakers. 

ULM has made modest gains since Bowden’s hire. Tim Fletcher, who hosts Shreveport’s most successful sports talk radio show, said his audience triples during his weekly “Warhawk Wednesday” segments.

In Fletcher's words, he minored in radio/TV production and majored in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at ULM until his exit in 1986. 

“I consider myself a quasi-alum,” Fletcher said. “Things didn’t work out for me academically, but I’ve always wondered why people around here don’t care about ULM/NLU like they should. Now I’ve got fraternity brothers and other people coming out of the woodwork because they went to NLU or ULM.

“You’re starting to hear that more and it hasn’t been that way for a while.”

ULM football coach Terry Bowden speaks to a group of alumni and supporters at the Petroleum Club in Shreveport on Tuesday night.

The Petroleum Club was an appropriate setting for the Shreveport stop, considering ULM’s desperate need for a booster bonanza. The athletic department operated at a $2.8 million deficit in the past fiscal year with more losses on the horizon. Most of the money Bowden has raised over the past five months have gone to operational expenses.

ULM has similar road shows scheduled for Baton Rouge on June 10 and New Orleans on June 11.

“This is the sixth program I’ve taken over as a head football coach and there are some things required by the job if you’re going to be a head coach in college,” Bowden said. “Especially at the Division I level, you’ve got to be able to go out and sell your program.”

On the field, Bowden inherits a team in the throes of historically bad. ULM finished a program-worst 0-10 in 2020 and never led in a single game.

The Bowden name itself has somewhat reinvigorated a success starved fan base. Bobby and Tommy Bowden, formerly the coach at Clemson, attended Terry’s official introduction.

Bowden lured former West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez to ULM as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator in January.

“I tell people all the time we’ve won the press conference for sure — now we have to figure out a way to get the Jimmy’s and Joe’s in here,” Rome said. “I think we’ve got the expertise and the experience from a coaching perspective and winning is going help that.”

Follow Adam on Twitter @adam_hunsucker