Louisiana-Lafayette’s former football coach and athletic director Nelson Stokley has died from complications brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.
University officials confirmed that Stokley died Saturday at the age of 66.
The native of Kennedy, Texas, led the Ragin’ Cajuns for 13 seasons from 1986 to 1998 and ranks second on the school’s all-time coaching victories list. After a 2-9 season in 1992, the Cajuns made one of the best turnarounds in Division I college football history en route to an 8-3 mark in 1993 and a share of the Big West Conference Championship. Stokley also guided the Cajuns to a Big West Championship in 1994 and put together a 14-4 record in his three seasons of conference play. He was athletic director from 1988 until 1992.
Among the players he guided to success in the NFL are his son, Brandon Stokley, a wide receiver with the Denver Broncos, and quarterback Jake Delhomme, who led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season and will play his first season with the Cleveland Browns this fall.
“It’s funny, when you look back 10-12 years, and you realize he might have been a pretty good coach,” Delhomme told The Advertiser. “He did a decent job. We were independent for so long, but he didn’t shy away from playing the big schools. He didn’t back down.
“Coach Stokley was very quiet, extremely intelligent. I appreciate that more now. He saw the big picture, saw what we could accomplish.”
Delhomme was the quarterback when the Ragin’ Cajuns scored a 29-22 upset of No. 25 Texas A&M in 1996 and passed for 9,216 yards in his college career.
From 1995-98, Stokley’s son Brandon was a record-setting receiver for the Cajuns. And, like Delhomme, the younger Stokley is still playing in the NFL, with Denver.
“I was lucky to see him at his most gratifying time – for two years when he got to see his son play,” Delhomme said. “That was a special time.”
Brian Mitchell, who quarterbacked the Cajuns to four straight winning seasons and then graduated to a successful career in the NFL, said he remembers Stokley’s innovative offensive schemes.
“He brought a big college feel to the program,” Mitchell told The Advertiser. “He had been on a national championship coaching staff at Clemson, and he didn’t care who we played.
“A coach is great who can take the talent he has and be able to use it. … I thanked him, too. I carried the ball over 600 times at UL and never missed a game, and that showed the NFL I was durable.”
Delhomme recalled the bond Stokley shared with his players, whether they were NFL-bound or not. “At the time, we were living in the dorm in the Conference Center,” Delhomme said. “I remember on Fridays before home games, we would watch a movie. But we would also watch high school football highlights, and Coach would watch with us.
“My true freshman year, Brandon was a senior at Comeaux, all 140 pounds of him. He would show up on the highlights, and we would ask Coach Stokley, ‘Where’d he get those moves?’ We would get on him. It was a lot of fun.”
Stokley, a former LSU quarterback, helped lead the Tigers to the 1966 Cotton Bowl and 1968 Sugar Bowl. He finished with 2,308 career total yards – at the time second only to Y.A. tittle. He also was an assistant coach for the Tigers under coach Charles McClendon, from 1969-73.