Josh “The Guru” Nichols’ last day with the Leader-Call was Thursday.
In the 10 years that I’ve owned the newspaper, this is by far the single toughest loss we have had to endure. Some employees are, well… employees. Some became family. Josh is definitely family.
Josh joined us just as we were transitioning from the weekly ReView of Jones County into the thrice-weekly Laurel Leader-Call. He was the first really big addition to the original core group of people who had made up The ReView. And he quickly emerged as a juggernaut, leading the LL-C sports department to heights that we couldn’t have imagined.
Josh’s passion for high school and college football is unsurpassed by anyone in the state. It led him to develop his alter-ego, “The Guru,” as a prognosticator of the game. It also helped fuel him on to pull off the almost super-human task of single handedly writing all of the editorial content for our first couple of football magazines. “Kickoff” is an idea that he came up with and, along with Creative Director Kassie Rowell, turned into one of the best free football preview magazines in the nation. It easily ranks up there with football magazines that charge upward of $15 a copy in both the editorial content as well as the design.
It was the amazing quality of the football magazine that helped spur us along to new heights when it came to other “special projects.” We started comparing everything we did to “Kickoff,” and if it didn’t come close to matching up, we either improved it or did away with it altogether. Josh’s football magazine made our entire company strive to produce only top-notch publications. And there is no doubt that if “Kickoff” hadn’t happened, we never would have gained enough experience and confidence to pull off the recently published and highly touted, “A Taste of Home Town” cookbook.
Josh did more than just come up with a great magazine, though. He developed great personal rapport with all four local high schools and their coaches. And he came up with the Battle for the Belt, which is awarded to the best local team out of Laurel, Northeast, South and West.
After Sean Murphy joined the staff, the Guru and Murph produced the very popular web video series “Feasting on Football,” which cleverly combined their two favorite pastimes — football and eating. The two of them also teamed up to call local high school games and right from the get-go, their chemistry made them as good as any play-by-play and color commentators anywhere on the air.
Although he led the LL-C sports department to never-before-seen heights, he was much more than just the sports guy at the paper.
When Mark was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, we were in a state of shock at the paper. Back then, Mark was the entire news department. I know that the rest of the staff was thinking the same thing I was … “What do we do now?” There is no doubt that it was Josh who rallied the troops, stayed upbeat and told everyone that if we all pulled together, we could not only keep the Leader-Call going, but we could continue to put out the same quality of paper that we had been publishing with Mark at the helm. And, amazingly, we did!
Besides just being a great colleague, Josh made the office fun. One day, I got a text asking me how much I would pay to watch Josh and Murph walk down Magnolia Street, past Café LeFleur during lunchtime, wearing nothing but their underwear. I was an easy mark. I offered up $50 apiece and the next thing here come Josh and Murph marching down North Magnolia in their skivvies. Needless to say, I’m sure the people eating by the window at Café LeFleur lost their appetites pretty quickly, but as far as I was concerned, it was a $100 well spent.
At one of our employee-only Christmas parties, Josh somehow ended up in another employee’s dress and started to march toward the train depot, where a city function was taking place. With the entire staff in tow, we watched as Josh marched through the streets of downtown in a dress and high heels.
I hope that I didn’t contribute to Josh’s departure by exiling him to “Dimeberia” at the end of 2015, but I do know that decision ultimately messed up the office dynamics and briefly sucked the life out of Josh. Fortunately, in 2017, we have all been on the road to recovery and Josh has helped lead the way by putting out two more great football magazines.
Although Josh won’t be around the office anymore, I know that he still plans on sharing his prognostications with us (spoiler alert: he’s predicting LSU will win back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back national championships) and I’m certainly hoping he will be involved in our football magazines and coverage for many years to come.
But we will miss having him around every day. There are employees who are always looking for what the company can do for them without offering much in return. There are employees who come in and do their job, get paid and go home. And then there are the rare few, like Josh “The Guru” Nichols, who take it upon themselves to make the company better. Josh made the Leader-Call a much better company. He helped us grow. He helped us put out better quality newspapers and magazines. And he made the Leader-Call a better place to work.
Josh is going to be missed at the Leader-Call, but he will remain family. And like we do with all of our family members, we wish him the best on his new job, but we will always welcome him back home.
Jim Cegielski is publisher of the Leader-Call. He lives in Laurel.