Joe Peace is football at La. Tech Coach turned program around

December 12, 1990|By Mike Preston

Paul Miller has the perfect scenario: Thousands of Louisiana Tech fans pour onto the field. They tear down the goal posts. They all point their index fingers to the sky. And, in the background, Bulldogs football coach Joe Raymond Peace rides off into the sunset.

"If there is ever a movie where they need someone to play John Wayne, then Joe is the guy to play the part," said Miller, the assistant on athletics to Louisiana Tech's president. "He's got it all together -- knowledge of the game, a good staff, charisma, tough. The players love him. He's just like 'The Duke.' "

Actually, what Peace, 45, has done is brought a program back from no-man's land to respectability in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I-A football world with a bowl bid, the school's first since 1978.

Louisiana Tech (8-3) will play Maryland (6-5) Saturday in the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

"I'm comfortable with this team, and it has come a long way in a short time, which is surprising," said Peace, in his third year. "And to get a chance at a team like Maryland in a bowl is a dream come true. These kids, coupled with support from the administration and some good coaching from the assistants, have given 100 percent. They have played to the best of their ability."

This seems to be one of Peace's traits -- give credit, take none. But, according to administrators and players at Louisiana Tech, Peace has been the dominant force in the turnaround.

Players said it was Peace who gave them confidence. Administrators said it was Peace who showed patience when the school moved from Division I-AA to I-A for the 1989 season and was being clobbered by Texas A&M and Houston.

Peace certainly built the Bulldogs' nationally ranked offense, and he's been able to recruit with some of his rivals, including Louisiana State.

He definitely brought intensity to the Bulldogs.

"He gives you that burning desire to win," said Louisiana Tech guard Scott Collis. "You can see it in his eyes. He lets his coaches coach, but he's a great motivator, very emotional. After we beat Colorado State to end the regular season, I thought he would never stop jumping around. Tears were streaming down his face. It's sincere emotion. That kind of stuff gets us fired up."

Peace is known as a player's coach. When the Bulldogs were looking for a new head coach three years ago, the players went to Miller, then athletic director, to support Peace, who at the time coached the offensive backfield.

"I had always noticed that the players were attracted to him, always around him," said Miller. "About that time, we had just gone through a terrible season, and morale was low. Even the field-goal kicker talked about leaving. We were looking for character in a coach more than style. That's why we hired Joe Raymond Peace."

Peace has been involved with football in Louisiana most of his life. He was an all-state center and fullback at Sicily Island High and became a standout linebacker for Louisiana Tech, graduating in 1968.

After coaching at two high schools and Northwestern State from 1974 through 1982, he joined the Louisiana Tech coaching staff in 1983 before replacing Carl Torbush in December 1987 as head coach. Torbush coached only one year [3-8] before leaving to take an assistant's job at North Carolina with head coach Mack Brown.

Peace said there is nothing like being the head coach at his alma mater.

"I have deep roots here," he said. "My mom and dad went to Louisiana Tech. I met my wife here. This was a good chance for me to pay back the school for what it and football gave me, a chance to keep playing and to get a quality education."

True, but did his first head coaching job have to start with the school moving from Division I-AA to I-A? And couldn't it have been done without playing the 11th-toughest schedule in the country?

"Basically, we were in jeopardy of losing our football team playing in the lower division, so we moved up to increase revenue," said Miller. "The first year, 1988, we really weren't in any division, just kind of a nomad. We took it on the chin, going 4-7. Then, last year, we moved to I-A and went 5-4-1.

"The thing about Joe is that, despite getting beat so badly, he never complained. Not once did he say a word about the schedule. He just kept working his butt off."

He has developed a highly productive offense, a one-back set with variations of the run and shoot, that was ranked 11th nationally (449.8 yards per game), as the Bulldogs averaged 30.1 points.

This season, Louisiana Tech blossomed, and even though the schedule is filled with McNeese and East Carolina states, these are the kind of teams that had beaten the Bulldogs in the past.

"Coach Peace has made the difference," said starting quarterback Gene Johnson. "He's been the light through the tunnel. When he came here, it was a bad scene. But he treats us like men. He's upfront, honest and very firm."

"Joe Raymond Peace coaches the same way he played; he's a tough, hard-working individual who never gives up," said Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, who was a graduate assistant at Louisiana Tech when Peace was a player. "He should see the same success in coaching that he saw in playing."

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