What was considered a golden era for Southern Lab football came crashing down Tuesday.
The LHSAA announced that the Class 1A Kittens must forfeit Division IV select titles for 2015 and 2016 as well as a runner-up finish in 2014 — severe punishment after an independent investigation uncovered recruiting violations.
In addition, the school is banned from the postseason for two years and was fined $5,000. The LHSAA also suspended Southern Lab coach Marcus Randall, the former LSU and Glen Oaks High quarterback, for one year.
Randall confirmed to The Advocate via text message he is no longer employed at Southern Lab. WAFB-TV later reported that Randall said he was fired.
"It's a long disheartening day for me and my kids," Randall wrote in the text.
Other sports at the school were placed on an administrative probation but do not face a playoff ban.
The plot twist is that the investigation, which uncovered recruiting violations, was commissioned by Southern Lab in October 2016. Findings from the self-imposed investigation done by a Texas-based firm were submitted to the LHSAA last Friday, leading to the announcement of sanctions.
“I want to start by saying that today and in the days we have ahead of us that the LHSAA, in cooperation with Southern University Lab School, wants to maintain transparency,” LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said.
“I want to stress that this was a self-imposed investigation and it was initially brought to our attention last October. There is no good time for something like this. Ideally, it would have been better to have happened in the spring. This is when the information was available to us.”
Bonine and Southern Lab director Herman Brister Jr., a Southern Lab alum who took over three weeks ago, took part in the news conference. Bonine mentioned "days ahead" because the fallout isn't over.
The LHSAA and Southern Lab will be scrutinizing the eligibility of current and former student-athletes, as well as the status of past assistant coaches.
The 90-plus page report submitted to the LHSAA led Bonine to rule that Southern Lab had violated key recruiting rules during the time period of the sanctions, requiring the school to forfeit all post-season awards.
• The recruiting/attempted recruiting of students specifically for athletic/scholastic purposes regardless of their place of residence, which Bonine says violates the spirit of the LHSAA’s rules.
• Specific recruiting for athletic purposes, a violation by the school personnel who did the recruiting and the student/athlete, according to Bonine.
• Providing payments or other inducements to student/athletes that other athletes/students did not receive was the third violation.
Bonine said the Kittens will vacate the titles they won, and that 2016 runner-up Ascension Episcopal and 2015 runner-up St. Mary's-Natchitoches will not be designated as champions.
“Right now, I would say this is a tough time for our students, but we’re going to get through it together,” Brister said. “Please be assured that this has no impact on the quality of the education of the students. We are going to use this as a learning experience and plan to maintain high standards.”
The sanctions also include two-year suspensions for past assistant coaches involved in violations and a one-year suspension for current assistants. The coaching situation puts Brister in an unusual situation, starting from scratch to hire coaches.
Southern Lab does not play in a jamboree this week and is scheduled to travel to Riverside Academy on Sept. 1 to open the regular season. Brister told the media he plans to take the rest of the week and will likely announce who the interim coach and/or assistants are early next week.
“I’ll take a few days, possibly through the weekend to consider what we’ll do,” Brister said of the coaching situation.
The news conference came the day after Friendship Capitol terminated former Southern Lab and Grambling player Corey Brownfield before he got to coach a game. Brownfield served as director of the Southern Lab Foundation through 2015-16, working in community outreach with an eye toward bringing students to Southern Lab. He also was an assistant football coach for an unspecified number of years.
Brownfield was not specifically mentioned in the sanctions and Bonine declined comment on his status. However, Brownfield stated that Bonine prompted Capitol to fire him. Brownfield said he has not been contacted by the LHSAA.
“I was called into the (Capitol) Principal, Mr. Robert Lang’s office yesterday. He stated that he was letting me go due to some allegations he found out from Mr. Eddie Bonine,” Brownfield said. “He said he got a call from Mr. Eddie Bonine and he said he thought it would be in the school’s best interest if they let me go.”
Update: 5:45 p.m.
Southern Lab will forfeit football championship trophies for 2015 and 2016, along with a runner-up trophy from 2014, based on sanctions released by the LHSAA at a joint news conference held Tuesday at the LHSAA office.
LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said the ruling was based in large part on an investigation done by Southern Lab which started in Oct. 2016. Bonine said those findings were turned over to the LHSAA on Friday. Southern Lab School Director Herman Brister Jr. and Bonine both addressed the media.
Bonine said the investigation showed Southern Lab violated a variety of recruiting rules, including ones providing payments or inducements for athletes that other students did not receive.
The school will forfeit all games from those three seasons and be banned from the football playoffs for two years. The coaching privileges of head coach Marcus Randall, a former LSU and Glen Oaks High School quarterback, were suspended for one year by the LHSAA. Randall was entering his third season and indicated in a text that he is no longer at the school. Brister said Randall's status otherwise was a personnel matter and he couldn't address it.
Southern Lab’s other sports will be placed on an administration probation and won’t be subject to a playoff ban.
Assistant coaches involved with the program over the past three years also are subject to suspension under the sanctions. Bonine and Brister said the status of coaches and the eligibility of current and former players, including those who have transferred to other schools, will be scrutinized in the coming days.
Southern Lab does not play in a jamboree this week and Brister said a coaching plan would likely not be finalized until early next week. The Kittens open their season at Riverside Academy on Sept. 1.
Friendship Capitol fired first-year football coach/athletic director Corey Brownfield, and the move apparently triggered a domino effect that affects one of the area’s most storied programs, Southern Lab.
A news conference that will involve LHSAA and Southern Lab officials is set for 4:30 p.m., according to a communication from LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine.
Southern Lab has won the past two LHSAA Division IV select football titles and was the runner-up in 2014. The Kittens were the Class 1A boys basketball runner-up in 2015 and Division IV select runner-up last spring.
Brownfield previously served as director of the Southern Lab School Foundation, where he worked as a liaison to the community who reached out to schools ranging from preschool to middle school in an effort to boost SLHS’ enrollment.
A former Southern Lab and Grambling athlete, Brownfield also was an assistant football coach for the Kittens for a portion of his time at the school that ended in 2015-16. First-year Southern Lab Director Herman Brister Jr. also confirmed an announcement was pending.
Brownfield said he has not been contacted by the LHSAA. He issued a statement that mentioned Bonine after retaining legal counsel.
“I was called into the (Capitol) Principal, Mr. Robert Lang’s, office yesterday. He stated that he was letting me go due to some allegations he found out from Mr. Eddie Bonine,” Brownfield said. “He said he got a call from Mr. Eddie Bonine, and he said he thought it would be in the school’s best interest if they let me go. I asked him why, and he said the association would contact me. Right now, I’m trying to find out what’s going on.”