Proud father, PR legend Louis Bonnette to watch sons face off Saturday
If Archie Manning is the patriarch of the first family of quarterbacks, then Louis Bonnette is the Archie Manning of college sports information directors.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Louis Bonnette said earlier this week. “Archie Manning was a heckuva football player.”
Bonnette was in charge of sports publicity at McNeese State University for nearly a half-century before retiring in 2012, when he was replaced by his youngest son, Matthew. His oldest son, Michael, is a senior associate athletic director and manages publicity efforts for LSU’s football team.
If the matchups between Archie Manning’s quarterback-playing sons, Peyton and Eli, were dubbed the Manning Bowl, then perhaps Saturday’s season opener between McNeese and LSU at Tiger Stadium should be called the Bonnette Bowl.
Louis Bonnette and his wife, Willene, will be there.
“I’m pulling for both of them, for Michael and for Matthew, and of course they’re pulling for their teams,” Louis Bonnette said. “I don’t look at the game as being Michael against Matthew. I just look at it as I’m going to a game, and I’m going to have a great time sitting there watching the game.”
According to College Sports Information Directors of America president Judy Willson, the Bonnette brothers are the only siblings in charge of sports information offices at the Division I level.
Louis Bonnette, a native of Pineville and a graduate of Louisiana Tech, arrived at McNeese in 1966 after a stint at the Beaumont Enterprise, the last part of which was spent in the newspaper’s Lake Charles bureau.
“Jim Winn hired me as the assistant director of the news bureau,” Louis recalled. “Part of my job would be sports information director.
“In 1970, when Jack Doland was hired as athletic director and head football coach, he wanted me to be in the athletic department. When I got there, he said you’re going to be the business manager, the ticket manager … you’re going to do it all.”
Right about that time, his future legacy was starting.
“Michael was born in 1970 and Matthew two years later,” Louis Bonnette said. “Growing up, they followed me everywhere and helped me in the press box. They learned early and it was something they liked to do.
“They grew up with Joe Dumars and Buford Jordan. They used to shoot baskets with Dumars at the Civic Center. They knew all the players and were great fans.”
Both sons played sports at LaGrange High School – baseball for Michael, football for Matthew – and had opportunities to walk on at McNeese, but chose differently.
After one semester at McNeese, Michael Bonnette transferred to LSU, where he began working as a student assistant in the sports information office under Herb Vincent. “He’s been there ever since,” Louis Bonnette said.
Michael was a full-time assistant at LSU when Vincent left in August 2000. He begins his 16th football season at the helm of LSU’s sports information office Saturday night.
Matthew’s path was more circular. After working in television production and later getting his degree from McNeese, he went to work at Division II Henderson State University in Arkansas. He returned to Louisiana a year later as an assistant SID at Northwestern State in Natchitoches.
Matthew was completing his ninth year on Doug Ireland’s staff at NSU when Louis Bonnette announced he would retire after a 46-year run at McNeese in which he earned induction into the CoSIDA and Louisiana Sports Halls of Fame and had the football field at Cowboy Stadium and the Southland Conference’s annual sports media award named in his honor.
Huge shoes to fill indeed. But as it turned out, only the first name on the door to Bonnette’s office would have to change.
“When I retired, the only one (then-McNeese athletic director) Tommy McClelland even thought about was Matthew,” Louis said.
Willene Bonnette retired earlier this year, which is giving the Bonnettes a chance to spend more time with their grandchildren.
“When I was working and she was working,” Louis said, “it was seven days a week.”
On Saturday night, he gets to watch his two sons – his living legacy, if you will – in action.
“You think about them following in your footsteps, but in reality, they made their own footsteps,” Louis Bonnette said. “We’re very proud of them. It’s a shame they both can’t win.”
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…