A lot to smile about, if he wants to: Landreneau has brought much success to McNeese softball program – American Press
Head softball coach James Landreneau guided McNeese State to its eighth NCAA Tournament appearance and first regional final last week in the Evanston (Ill.) Regional. (Phillip Mitchell / Special to the American Press)
There is physical proof that James Landreneau does in fact smile.
It was right there for all McNeese State softball fans to see.
Maybe it did just happen once, but it was caught on national television.
Moments after his Cowgirls turned a triple play against Notre Dame last May in the Evanston Regional the ESPN cameras turned and focused on the McNeese bench.
As the players celebrated there it was, just for a second but it was clear as day, the cowgirl head coach was grinning from ear to ear. In a flash the moment was gone, for there was still a game against a top 25 team to win.
“I don’t know if he’s every really happy,” pitcher Ashley Vallejo said during last season. “He seems a bit grumpy a lot. But we know when he’s happy with us and when he’s not.”
Landreneau says he isn’t always unhappy.
“I smile,” said Landreneau. “I think I smile more than I get credit for. When we finally win a regional I will really smile.”
His Cowgirls are getting closer as two wins over the Irish this year had McNeese playing in the title game against host Northwestern, the ninth-ranked team in land at the time. That is more than enough to make a coach smile.
“No, James doesn’t like to smile,” said Todd Butler, McNeese Associate AD who overseas softball. “I have known him for two decades and he is a relentless worker, but he doesn’t smile very often. We kid him about that.”
The 47-year-old skipper of McNeese’s top program has a lot to smile about if he wants.
In his six seasons at the helm of the Cowgirls they have posted a 211-125 record and are 97-32 in Southland Conference play. He has been the league’s Coach of the Year twice and won the honor this past spring for all of Louisiana’s softball coaches.
His teams won at least 33 games every year but one, that in 2020 when the pandemic shut down the season early. At the time it ended McNeese was off to a 19-7 start.
It has led other schools to show interest in Landreneau, but he shut down talks with Troy early, believing he was closer to his goal at McNeese then starting over elsewhere.
“Every year there are schools that reach out, and it is flattering,” said Landreneau. “But I am very happy here at McNeese. I think we are trending in the right direction. I don’t see any reason to go anywhere else right now.”
Landreneau’s path to his present location is one interesting enough. He never figured to be coaching in college let along softball.
He was a baseball guy who was selling cars when the idea first came up.
But since taking over the Cowgirls in 2017 he has helped continue their rise in ranks and even made them a national name. They have become the power program in the Southland and have their eyes on bigger prizes.
Yet, none of this was planned.
“I didn’t every expect to be a college coach,” said Landreneau. “I didn’t have a college degree, I was selling cars and running Bullet Baseball.”
Then McNeese head coach Mike Smith wanted Landreneau just to help out and the only money he would offer him was a small amount for taking care of the field.
“I was officially working just 29 hours a week,” Landreneau said. “That was it. I had two kids. I had started Bullet Baseball (a group of travel teams) as an academy and was paying my own way.”
He even had to re-start his baseball business after Hurricane Rita in 2005.
“That wiped us out and we began all over again,” Landreneau said.
But all that, especially what he learned selling cars and his time as finance director at the dealership, helped make him a better softball coach.
“That thought me how to treat people and how to get to know what they need,” Landreneau said. “It is about the business of treating them right and telling them what you want and why and finding out what they want. You have to be able to listen and learn.”
Landreneau’s ability to grow with the program has been a huge plus for McNeese. He runs a polished team that is deeply involved in the community. And he has had his hand in every part of the softball building process.
Back before there was no section for season ticket holders Landreneau led the way to setting one. He even helped nail the special seats with his own hands.
“You do what you have to do,” he said. “I didn’t worry about what we didn’t have, I just figured out what we needed and found a way to get it.”
That has earned him not only respect in the softball world but also on his own campus.
“James has created the best culture of any of our athletic programs,” said McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer. “He is a star. I’m so impressed by what he does and what he has built. We would be lost without him.”
As for on the field, Landreneau’s teams duck nobody. He plays one of the toughest schedules around. Last season his Cowgirls took on both Oklahoma and Texas, the two teams that met for the national championship.
“I want to play the best because that is what makes you the best,” Landreneau said. “We want to find out early what we need to work on.”
Work is the essence of Landreneau’s success.
“Really, the right doors have just always opened up for me,” he said. “I’ve been lucky for that. A spot at McNeese came up, I was able to get my degree and I just kept moving up. I got a Division I job and I didn’t have to move around the country.
“I was told that if you are good at what you do and enjoy your job and work hard at it, you will never have to apply for a job. People want to notice and want you. I’ve been lucky that way.”
Now they even notice when he smiles.