Paul Dietzel’s impact still felt at LSU, USC
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
Thank goodness for one common link between South Carolina and LSU.
When the Gamecocks and Tigers kick off Saturday, both will be considered programs on the highest tier of college football.
Paul Dietzel, now 88 years old, showed both how to win. He left major influences at both, particularly LSU.
In a 20-year career as head coach that produced a so-so (at first glance) 109-95-5 record at three schools - but also three conference championships and one national title - Dietzel resuscitated woe-begotten programs at both LSU and Carolina. In fact, it would be hard to imagine LSU football today if Dietzel hadn’t come the way of the Tigers. He was the first to show Carolina the way, too.
Carolina is the toast of the college football right now, but the thing to remember about the Gamecocks is that, despite making the SEC Championship Game two years ago, the program - with one long ago exception - has never won a football championship.
The only title the Gamecocks can claim in a long history came in 1969 when Dietzel coached them to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with just a 7-3-0 record, but, hey, Carolina fans had to feel they made a breakthrough.
“I never saw such happy people,” Dietzel once said of the Gamecock faithful after the season.
Forty-three years later, they’re still waiting for an encore.
But Dietzel’s influence will still be part of the Carolina presence Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. Dietzel once heard the Gamecock band playing the Broadway show tune Step to the Rear and really enjoyed it. Like his former boss at LSU Jim Corbett with Hey, Look Me Over, Dietzel reworked the lyrics and gave them to the band director. Now that is the Carolina fight song, The Fighting Gamecocks Lead the Way.
Dietzel should rightfully be considered the father of modern LSU football. The Tigers were in the doldrums 58 years ago when the 30-year-old Army assistant (think that’s possible today?) was hired to replace Gus Tinsley. LSU hadn’t won so much as a conference championship in 22 years when, three years into his tenure, Dietzel, divisively called “Pepsodent Paul” for his bright smile and handsome looks, got in his system firmly into place, and coached the Bayou Bengals to the top of the college football world.
His last four teams at LSU before leaving for Army went 36-7-1 with two SEC titles, and set the mold for future Tiger teams, that is generally as a player on the national scene.
Dietzel’s LSU influence will be apparent Saturday night, too. With just minor changes, the Tigers will be still be wearing their distinctive uniforms, designed and unveiled by Dietzel 55 seasons ago.
TIGER BAIT: The game with South Carolina might be a must-see game for more than the obvious reasons. LSU might or might not get off the mat, but more than that Saturday might be the last appearance in Tiger Stadium by one of the riveting figures in the history of the Southeastern Conference, Steve Spurrier. A terrific Heisman Trophy-winning player in his days quarterbacking the Florida Gators, Spurrier ranks with Bear Bryant and Nick Saban as among the best skippers ever in a league top-heavy through the decades with notable coaches. It’s easy now to forget that Florida was generally an after-thought in SEC football before Spurrier returned to Gainesville (similar to South Carolina now) to straighten out what had become a real messy program. The Gators had never won so much as a single conference football title before Spurrier came back in 1991. They won six - seven if you count one that was taken away because of program transgressions before Spurrier got there - over the next decade, plus a national championship. Spurrier’s road was much more difficult than, say, Bryant’s when the Bear took over Alabama. In those days SEC schools made out their own schedules, often tailoring them for maximum effect, and only had to play six league opponents, half of the SEC when Bryant came in. When Spurrier arrived everybody had to play eight. There was no ducking anybody, plus his teams had to play a conference championship game, something non-existent in Bryant’s time. In other words, by the time Spurrier was in the league, teams had to really win titles. He did it at Florida, and now he’s making serious in-roads at a school that has never done it before, South Carolina, which at this point looks not only as an SEC title contender, but a serious national champion challenger as well. LSU’s problem? Easy. The decimated offensive line, which of course affects the backs; a receiving corps not nearly as good as advertised; and, like it or not, a drop in quarterback play from 2011. All of which explains why LSU’s offense has the look of a not so-well prepared high school offense. It doesn’t, however, explain the terrible and predictable play calling.
Marty Mule’ can be reached at MJM981two@charter.net