LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette football fans got what they wanted Monday afternoon when football coach Mark Hudspeth announced that he will return as the Ragin’ Cajuns’ head coach in 2012.

Hudspeth made the announcement at an afternoon news conference to discuss the Cajuns’ Dec. 17 New Orleans Bowl matchup against Mountain West representative San Diego State.

“I am a Ragin’ Cajun; I am staying here ... for next year ... definitely,” Hudspeth said. “I am a Ragin’ Cajun and very excited to be here, too.”

Hudspeth and ULL Athletic Director Scott Farmer, who also attended the news conference, said they are working out the details on restructuring Hudspeth’s original five-year contract, which has four years remaining. That contract pays Hudspeth a base salary of $360,000 with an opportunity for him to earn up to $65,000 more through incentives.

Farmer said the new agreement would be one that rewards Hudspeth for the success ULL has enjoyed in 2011 — 8-4 record and first bowl appearance since 1970 — and also puts Hudspeth’s annual salary in the line with other successful Sun Belt Conference coaches.

“It’s our goal to make him the top paid coach in the Sun Belt Conference,” Farmer said.

Middle Tennessee’s Rich Stockstill, with an annual salary of $588,780, is the highest-paid coach in the Sun Belt Conference, according to a survey done by the newspaper USA Today.

Hudspeth’s current salary, by comparison, ranks below five other coaches in the Sun Belt and is less than all but nine other NCAA FBS-level coaches whose salaries were obtained by USA Today.

According to Farmer, the new contract would entail a substantial increase in salary, an adjustment of the current bonus structure and the addition of at least one more year to the current contract.

“We’re still working on some of those fine details,” Farmer said. “I can’t go through every point because it’s not done yet.

“I think when it gets done, obviously, we’ll sit down and share it with everyone.”

The announcement comes as Hudspeth’s name continues to be bandied about regarding job openings across the country.

A native of Mississippi, Hudspeth’s name has been primarily linked to job openings and potential job openings at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss.

One of those, the Ole Miss position, was filled Monday when officials at that university announced the hiring of Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze. Freeze, a former Ole Miss assistant, led the Indians to a 10-2 record, the Sun Belt Conference title and a berth in the GoDaddy.com Bowl this season.

Ironically, Freeze was the lowest-paid coach in the Sun Belt Conference with an annual salary of $223,000, according to figures obtained by USA Today.

Hudspeth said he appreciates the efforts made by the ULL administration to retain him, and he looks forward to continuing the progress made by the Ragin’ Cajuns in 2011.

“I really feel like Dr. (Joseph) Savoie has made a great show of support for the direction that we feel like we have our program going,” Hudspeth said. “I feel like in the last 11 months that we’ve closed that gap (on other SBC teams) an awful lot.

“Do we have a long way to go? Sure we do. But that’s the fun part about building your own program and putting your stamp on it: It’s the journey. And when you have an opportunity to take a journey with a special group of people, with a special group of players and coaches ... that’s pretty special.

“We have something going here in Lafayette that the other part of the country has no idea of what’s going on, with the affair between the university, the community. ... It’s special, and if we can continue making progress every day to make our program, our university better, the sky is the limit. We just need to keep recruiting hard, working hard, keeping pulling that rope in the right direction, and good things will happen for us.”

Notes

Hudspeth said his first reaction to learning his team’s opponent would be San Diego State was one of excitement. “For us, we want to get as much national exposure as we can, and I think San Diego State brings somewhat of a national exposure flavor to this bowl game,” he said. … The Aztecs, like the Cajuns, bring an 8-4 record into the bowl. Their four losses have been to No. 6 Boise State, No. 12 Michigan, No. 15 TCU and unranked Wyoming. … Offensively, San Diego State is averaging 29.8 points and 422.9 yards per game. … Running back Ronnie Hillman (1,656 yards rushing) and quarterback Ryan Lindley (2,740 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes) lead the SDSU offense. … Hudspeth said cornerback Bill Bentley will practice this week and will play in the bowl game. Bentley suffered a dislocated shoulder in the season finale against Arizona and had been questionable.