ENGSTER: Funding for LSU critical to football fortunes

LSU President F. King Alexander (left) and Gov. John Bel Edwards

President, Tiger Rag Magazine

When former Gov. Bobby Jindal announced publicly on June 24 of last year that he was seeking to become the leader of the free world, his biggest fan was Les Miles. The LSU football coach backed the governor’s quest for the White House despite the fact that Jindal cut funding for Miles’ employer by more than 50-percent over the last eight years.

Jindal’s successor, John Bel Edwards, is facing the prospect of more cuts to LSU unless there is a revenue spike which would include new taxes. Edwards warned last week that summer school could be in jeopardy. This could result in some LSU athletes not having the capacity to attend classes and earn enough credits to remain eligible on the field.

The reality is that LSU football will be the last item to be affected by the state’s budget shortfall. But higher education funding was sliced mercilessly during the Jindal years. More budget cuts would devastate the state’s flagship campus.

LSU President F. King Alexander has noted that it’s hard to face another haircut when you’re already bald. Gov. Edwards was indelicate with his words, but he has brought new attention to an old problem.

The Ole War Skule generally fares better under governors who are graduates of the University. Edwards is an LSU Law School graduate as was the previous Gov. Edwards and Gov. John McKeithen. They enthusiastically promoted funding for their alma mater as did former Gov. Mike Foster, another LSU alum.

Eight of ten Louisiana residents lack a college degree, so they may not feel the urgency to pay for higher education. But LSU needs stability in the long run to enjoy continued success on the gridiron.

A world class football program requires a world class university. This goal is impossible when the school’s budget that has been sliced by 55-percent since 2008 is on the brink of more whacking. The damage was done by Brown and Oxford graduate Bobby Jindal.

Now, it is up to the man from West Point and LSU to solidify funding for Louisiana’s mother ship. LSU captured BCS titles under both Gov. Foster and Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Jindal’s two-terms were devoid of national championships in football.

Former LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert, who now heads the NCAA, more than a decade ago invested millions in a spruced up cage for Mike the Tiger. Emmert’s reasoning was that Mike the Tiger’s habitat was the most prominent tourist destination in Louisiana.

Emmert was correct in that millions of visitors converge at Mike’s cage each year. It is LSU football that attracts the masses who otherwise would not pay attention to the campus feline. Just as Mike has seven or eight Saturdays in the fall to draw most of his admirers, LSU football basks in the glow of one of the country’s most beautiful campuses with a roster of graduates in all walks of life.

LSU’s athletic juggernaut benefits when the University is not disregarded by its governor. A university that is dead last in funding in the SEC is not a prescription for recruiting athletes who value education.

Many citizens should ask why there was no outrage over sledge hammer reductions to LSU from the previous governor while one sentence from the new governor about LSU football being affected by such cuts was met with panic by sensible people.

LSU Women’s Hoops in deep slump

LSU Women’s Coach Nikki Fargas is one of the best paid female coaches in the country, earning a base salary of $700,000 a year. By contrast, Gymnastics Coach D.D. Breaux has a base salary of $180,000 and Baseball Coach Paul Mainieri earns a base amount of $675,000 per year.

Mainieri and Breaux are near the pinnacle of success in their respective sports while at press time, the LSU Ladies are in last place in the SEC basketball standings with a conference record of 2-10 and an overall mark of 8-17 in their fifth season under Fargas.

Here are the records of the last four LSU Women’s coaches.

Coach, Years, Record, PCT, Final Four Appearances
Sue Gunter, 1982-2004, 442-221, 66.7, 1*
Pokey Chatman, 2004-2007, 94-15, 86.2, 3**
Van Chancellor, 2007-2011, 90-40, 69.2, 1
Nikki Vargas, 2011-2016, 91-67, 57.6, 0

*Gunter was ill in her last season as Chatman led Tigers to Final Four as interim coach. Gunter was credited with all victories for 2003-2004.

**Chatman was dismissed prior to NCAA Tournament in 2007. Bob Starkey guided team to Final Four. Chatman’s record is 91-14 if she is not credited with all victories for 2006-2007.

The program has faltered since Chancellor led the Lady Tigers to their fifth consecutive Final Four in 2008. Chancellor benefited from an abundance of talent he inherited from Chatman. From 2002-2008, LSU was 182-33 (84.7 PCT) under Gunter (2 years), Chatman (3 years) and Chancellor (1 year). Since then, LSU is 150-101 over the past eight seasons (59.8 PCT).

Fargas, who was 72-26 in three years as head coach at UCLA, has not excited fans and not won enough games at LSU to justify her spectacular compensation. Fargas was hired by Joe Alleva, who must make a decision on her future. It will be interesting to see if Fargas is held to the Les Miles standard for excellence.

Super Bowl was showcase for SEC passers

Peyton Manning (Tennessee) directed Denver to a 24-10 victory over Cam Newton (Auburn) and Carolina in Super Bowl 50, marking the second time that both Super Bowl quarterback starters were SEC products.

In Super Bowl XI, Ken Stabler (Alabama) and Oakland defeated Fran Tarkenton (Georgia) 32-14.

Eight SEC quarterbacks have piloted their teams to Super Bowl victories. In addition to Peyton Manning last week and Stabler, there was Bart Starr (Alabama) for Green Bay in Super Bowls I and II, Joe Namath (Alabama) in Super Bowl III for the Jets, Eli Manning in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI for the Giants and P. Manning in Super Bowl XLI with Indianapolis.

David Woodley is the only LSU quarterback to start in a Super Bowl. His Miami Dolphins were beaten by Washington 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII.

In 100 starts by NFL quarterbacks in 50 Super Bowls, the top three passing yardage performances are from one man—Kurt Warner.

Warner not being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is criminal. He shares the same June 22 birthday as Pete Maravich, who has been snubbed from admission the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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