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The impact offensive line coach DJ Looney had on UL's program will be evident by the gesture for every Cajuns' player to have 'Looney' on the back of their jersey in Friday's game at UAB.

In his first news teleconference since Saturday’s death of offensive line coach D.J. Looney, UL head coach Billy Napier said Wednesday his staff will eventually get around to tweaking its structure to account for Looney’s sudden absence.

But he’s not sure it’s possible to replace Looney's greatest contributions to the team.

“I don’t think you can replace it,” Napier said. “That’s my opinion. I think we’ll give it our best shot.”

More than any other coach on the staff, Looney was a master of the people side of the coaching profession.

“This was a guy that really poured himself into people,” Napier said. “That’s what made him really special.

“The human element, D.J. was special in that category.”

Napier said football is essentially a combination of people, strategy and competition. Looney was at the forefront of the most important facet.

“People have always got to be at the top of that list,” Napier said. “If you ever put strategy first or competition first, then you’re not going to get the return you want and certainly, you’re not going to fulfill your purpose.

“Over the last couple of years, D.J. has been one of the core people in the organization that allowed that to happen. We work hard to create a unique culture within the building and I think D.J. has had as much to do with that as anybody over the last couple of years.”

By working as a mentor to players and being an invaluable colleague to coaches, Looney did more than coach the offensive line.

“D.J. was one of those guys that he coached the offensive line but he did a terrific job on special teams where he had responsibilities on the return unit and the block unit,” Napier said. “He also had relationships with young men he had recruited. And just in general, with the entire team, he always had a pulse of who needed what. Being 31 years old, D.J. was single and didn’t have children, D.J. had a really good pulse for the team — where we were at and what we needed to do.

“Like any difficult thing that you go through when you lose someone, it requires everyone to step their game up — kind of the next-man-up approach. I know that’s going to be a difficult challenge. D.J. was so unique and so special, it’ll be a big challenge.”

By trade, though, Looney was an offensive line coach who worked closely with offensive coordinator Rob Sale. Both played offensive line in the Southeastern Conference — Sale at LSU and Looney at Mississippi State.

“Those guys are like long, lost brothers,” Napier said. “When we first got together, they just hit it off from the jump. Their personalities complement each other. Certainly their strengths and weaknesses complement each other. They’ve made each other better and certainly, their backgrounds both being SEC players and both having experience coaching in the SEC and other Power Five conferences made for an incredible duo. And it’s pretty well documented how well those guys have played.

“Very much a brotherhood and one of the people that this will be most difficult on will be coach Sale. Our players sense that and certainly our staff senses and have tried to be there for coach Sale.”

Napier said the athletic department is currently discussing an official method of honoring Looney during the 2020 season, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 5 against McNeese State at Cajun Field.

“I could see where that could become a little bit of a rallying cry,” Napier said. “Especially knowing D.J., he would want the guys to work extremely hard to play well. He’d also want them to go about it a certain way— to work on who they are as people, and the way they do things with class, character and integrity.”

Napier also said Looney’s loss is another reminder for coaches to strive for as much balance as possible in this stressful profession.

“I do think that having a work-life balance is important, in particular in this profession,” Napier said. “I’ve tried it a lot of different ways. I try to tell some of the coaches that I work with, especially the young ones, that it’s critical that you’ve got some self-discipline, that you work hard on getting a good night’s rest consistently and that you have some type of outlet that allows you to have perspective. For me, that’s my faith and certainly exercise and nutrition are a big part of the equation as well.

“It can eat you up and spit you out if you allow it to.”


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.