Bernardi doing more with less to help Nicholls succeed

14-year-old Lao among THS’s Class of 2011
May 17, 2011
Thursday, May 19
May 19, 2011
14-year-old Lao among THS’s Class of 2011
May 17, 2011
Thursday, May 19
May 19, 2011

Running a successful athletic department with a miniscule and pretty much non-existent budget is tough.

Doing so, while recruiting against other schools with better facilities than yours is even tougher.

All of that, while having one of the lowest enrollment figures in your conference? That’s pretty much impossible, right?


Those are the factors that Nicholls State athletics director Rob Bernardi balances in his day-to-day grind keeping the school’s programs afloat and by and large, it’s safe to say he clearly does the most with what he’s given, very, very little.

Sure, the Nicholls athletic programs are not wracking up a slew of championships and bringing home gold in every, single sport.

But is it really fair for anyone to expect them to?

The Colonels compete in the Southland Conference and have an enrollment of just more than 6,000 students.

Let’s look at some of the other schools in the conference and compare and contrast, shall we?

Lamar University: Enrollment, 14,888. Sam Houston State University: Enrollment, 17,000. The University of Central Arkansas: Enrollment – 11,450.

Heck, even here close to home, it’s the same.

Northwestern State University: Enrollment, 10,000. Southeastern Louisiana University: Enrollment, 14,500.

Those are just five of the teams the school is competing with. The numbers tell the same story throughout the whole conference.

So basically why this matters is because things work like this, fewer students mean less endowment money.

Less endowment money (a.k.a. state support) means poorer quality facilities (stadiums, weight rooms, training rooms). Poorer quality facilities mean you will be less likely to recruit good players to your team.

Think of it like buying a house. If you’re a buyer, will you buy a beautiful, two-story red brick home or the doublewide trailer that has a little bit of rot in the bathroom and has a termite problem? Keep in mind that both homes are the same price and are in the same, exact neighborhood.

Of course, these recruits are more inclined to buy the brick house, which puts Nicholls at a severe competitive disadvantage, because guess what? The lack of money makes them the worn-down doublewide trailer.

But from all of the things I’m saying, it’s pretty clear to imply that Nicholls is a bottom-feeding athletic program that finishes last place in every Southland Conference sport, right?


The Colonels compete very well athletically with their Southland peers. And with nothing working in their favor, it’s inevitable that we shift a lot of credit for that success to the man in the middle of it all, Bernardi and his savvy decision-making.

When you’re in this type of situation, you truly have no room for error and looking at some of the administrator’s recent decisions show that ‘error’ just might not be in Mr. Bernardi’s vocabulary.

We’ll start with football, a program that is in transition at the school. Bernardi made the decision to fire head coach Jay Thomas in 2009, a risky decision considering that the former coach did have success with the program.

But he promptly replaced him with Charlie Stubbs, who was an unpopular choice at the time, but has ended up being a home run hire for the Colonels.

The coach led the team to a 4-7 year in 2010, but by all accounts, Nicholls is going to be ready to rock ‘n’ roll in 2011 and into the future, so much so that Stubbs was given a contract extension just one year into his job.

We’ve already talked about money and how Nicholls has a lack thereof, so when it is opening the wallet that early for someone, it shows that it is very, very confident he’s the man of the future.

Looking around at some of the school’s other coaching hires shows a similar scenario of wise spending by Bernardi.

In women’s basketball, Dobee Plaisance will turn that team around. I know it feels weird to think of the Colonels fielding a successful women’s basketball team, partly because they haven’t done that in an eternity. But Dobee will turn that program around. Book it. The team has all of the talent it needs. With seasoning, they’ll surprise people and they’ll surprise people this coming season.

In baseball, Seth Thibodeaux is picking up where his predecessor, Chip Durham, left off and Nicholls is right in the thick of things in the chase for the Southland Tournament.

Durham got all of the credit for the team’s turnaround last year, but Thibodeaux recruited every player on the roster. He was an easy and seamless choice and another good hire for Bernardi and staff, because he would have most likely landed elsewhere in the league if replaced.

It’s difficult to start naming good coaching hires, because you don’t ever want to leave anyone out, but the general message remains the same.

Nicholls may be broke. They may also have fewer students and poorer facilities than the other teams in the Southland.

But for a rundown doublewide trailer, they sure do seem to compete pretty darn well.

And Mr. Bernardi deserves two cheers for that.