Northwestern State announced Thursday that it has canceled the remainder of its 2023 season and accepted the resignation of coach Brad Laird following the death of one of the team’s players in a shooting.
The school in Natchitoches, Louisiana, said the death of junior safety Ronnie Caldwell has taken an emotional toll on the team. Caldwell, 21, died Oct. 21 from injuries suffered when he was shot multiple times, police said. His death remains under investigation.
“Ronnie was a beloved member of our community, and we miss him dearly,” Northwestern State president Marcus Jones said. “While our instinct was to return to the field of play following his death, we’ve since learned that the hurt on our team was too deep. Now it is in the best interest of our players, coaches and staff to pause and to take this time to mourn, to heal and to support Ronnie’s family.”
Caldwell, a transfer from Tyler Junior College originally from Cedar Park, Texas, had been injured this season and was working as a volunteer coach for the defensive backs while he rehabbed.
“He was our voice in the locker room,” Laird said in a statement when Caldwell died. “When Ronnie spoke, others listened. The respect our football team had for Ronnie was evident. He did not play a snap this year because of an injury, but his voice resonated with every member of our team from the first player to the 115th on our roster.”
Laird, who was in his sixth season as head coach of the Demons, said he needed to step down, as well. Laird, 50, was a record-setting quarterback at NSU who spent six seasons as an NSU assistant before becoming the head coach in 2018.
“Due to the loss of Ronnie and the emotional burden it has caused me, I don’t feel I can give my all to these players or this program,” Laird said. “Any coach will tell you that their players become like family, so the loss of Ronnie was like losing a son. I love this program and this university and I know it will persevere and move forward with the competitive spirit that is at the core of our DNA.”
The university said defensive coordinator Weston Glaser will serve as interim head coach while the athletic department begins an immediate search for its next head coach.
Northwestern State is an FCS school and member of the Southland Conference, which said Thursday that it supports the school’s decision.
“Our unwavering commitment is to those impacted by Ronnie’s loss, and we will steadfastly support Northwestern State during this period of grief and recovery,” Southland commissioner Chris Grant said.