Jim Engster: Another sad chapter to 2020

LSU shied away from hiring Jimbo Fisher as head coach late in 2015 for the same reasons the LSU football program is under fire now.

Five Novembers ago, LSU lost its third straight game, falling 38-17 to Ole Miss after losing decisively to Alabama and Arkansas the preceding two weeks. It appeared Les Miles was a goner three weeks removed from a 7-0 start.

With his team reeling as it was heading into a home date against Texas A&M, it was speculated that LSU had come to terms with Jimbo Fisher. Fisher’s prospective hire was considered logical. The former Tiger assistant had directed Florida State to a national title. The announcement was widely anticipated to be coming soon after the game against the Aggies.

Instead of hiring Fisher, who was prepared to migrate from Tallahassee to Baton Rouge for the right price, Athletic Director Joe Alleva abruptly reversed course and awkwardly backed Les Miles in the locker room after a 19-7 victory on Nov. 28 at Tiger Stadium. Miles lasted another five games before he was dumped four games into 2016, opening the door for Ed Orgeron to ascend to the head coaching position.

It was thought that President King Alexander reacted negatively to the sticker shock when he was informed of the substantial amount of compensation required to land Fisher. The primary reason for backing away from a coaching change is that the Florida State program was the subject of a Nov. 25, 2015 expose’ in The New York Times just three days before LSU was planning to hire Fisher.

This is a portion of the account from Walt Boganich of The Times that spooked the LSU brass.

In court papers that Florida State University fought to keep confidential, the former director of the school’s Victim Advocate Office testified that in 2014, a total of 113 students reported being sexually battered, which is the same as rape in Florida. But the college reported only 14 cases to the federal government, records show.

The former official, Melissa Ashton, who ran the advocate office in 2014, also testified that in the nine years she worked in that office, an estimated 40 football players had been accused of sexual assault or “intimate partner” violence, and that to the best of her recollection, only one person had been found responsible. She said most of the women chose not to pursue the cases “based on fear.” No names were mentioned.

Ms. Ashton provided her testimony in connection with a federal lawsuit filed by a former student, Erica Kinsman, who alleges that the university failed in its duty under federal law to properly investigate that Jameis Winston, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, raped her in late 2013.

The failure to hire Fisher in part due to his handling of sexual assault allegations at FSU is filled with irony based on a report from USA Today detailing several similar allegations at LSU over the past four years.

Since 2016, LSU players accused of misconduct involving sexual misconduct or dating violence against women include Derrius Guice, Grant Delpit, Davon Godchaux, Jacob Phillips, Ed Ingram, Drake Davis, Tae Provens, Peter Parrish and Ray Parker.

“We know that there are some cases where handling the investigations could have been improved,” LSU Director of Media Relations Ernie Ballard wrote. “However, the insinuation that we didn’t take an allegation seriously or tried to cover up an allegation is simply false.”

Alexander and Alleva are no longer employed at LSU, making the former president, who is now in charge at Oregon State, and the fired athletic director, who has moved to Florida, convenient scapegoats for all that went wrong on this front. Still, it is hard to fathom that all current members of the university and athletic department will be spared from scandal or dismissal based on their actions or lack thereof.

Hundreds of LSU students marched on campus last Friday to protest the university’s response to sexual assault allegations. With the permanent post of president and chancellor open, the person chosen to lead LSU will inherit a mess that has to be addressed quickly or Louisiana’s flagship institution will suffer irreparable harm.

LSU interim president Tom Galligan has announced the hiring of the Husch Blackwell law firm of Kansas City to conduct an independent, comprehensive review of LSU Title IX policies and procedures by the spring of 2021.

Some successful coaches have imposed a zero-tolerance policy when players are found culpable in assaults of women. One is Steve Spurrier, the former Florida and South Carolina head man.

“I have had that rule I think every year I’ve been at South Carolina. . .and we have lost two players,” Spurrier said five years ago. “I tell the team when they first arrive on campus, all the freshmen know right now, that if you ever hit a girl, punch a girl. . .you are finished. You can go somewhere else, transfer somewhere else, but you are not going to be on our team. . .some other coaches think they’ll give a guy a second chance, but we don’t have second chances for that.”

Ten years ago, LSU commitment Jeremy Hill, a highly recruited running back, was arrested on charges of oral sexual battery after he was accused of pressuring a 14-year-old girl to perform oral sex on him at Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge. He pleaded guilty to carnal knowledge of a juvenile and was allowed to enroll and join the LSU football team.

Six years ago, defensive back Jalen Mills was arrested on a second-degree battery charge after he was accused of punching a female victim in the mouth. The charges were lowered from a felony to a misdemeanor, and Mills returned to the team.

LSU should have parted company with the two athletes who were big stars in Tigertown. Tolerance of aberrant behavior has been long established, and there is scant evidence that pattern has changed.

Short list of LSU coaches to win SEC titles at PMAC

A total of 11 SEC regular season basketball championships have been won by LSU men and women in 49 years of play in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

The list is another reminder of why the naming of the Dale Brown Court at the PMAC is warranted. This is the select group of six men’s and women’s coaches to win SEC titles at the arena.

Coach, SEC Titles, SEC Record

Dale Brown 4, 238-200

John Brady 2, 74-93

Pokey Chatman 2, 45-9

Trent Johnson 1, 25-39

Will Wade 1, 35-18

Van Chancellor 1, 41-19

Sue Gunter 0, 132-111

Nikki Fargas 0, 75-69

Johnny Jones 0, 42-48

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