Jim Engster: Can Kelly Avoid Sophomore Perils?

Les Miles
Former LSU football coach Les Miles appears to be avoiding a subpoena

Brian Keith Kelly barnstorms into his second year of a rebuilding program designed to immediately return LSU football to the pinnacle, he has a solid opening act to his credit. A win over Nick Saban is equivalent to four losses.

His Tigers were exciting and minus three games against Tennessee, Texas A&M and Georgia, they were among the best teams in the country. LSU did suffer three defeats by at least 15 points for the first time in the 21st Century, but Kelly joined Mike Archer and Les Miles as the only LSU football gurus to post a double-digit victory total in their rookie years at TigerTown.

Since Paul Dietzel guided LSU football into the modern age and directed his troops to the promised land 48 months after he was hired in 1954, here are the first-year records of Tiger coaches relative to the program they inherited.

More importantly, this table shows how each coach fared in year two with the Tigers.

Year                       Coach                                    Record                  Previous Year     Year Two

1955                      Paul Dietzel                         3-5-2                     5-6                         3-7

1962                     Charles McLendon           9-1-1                     10-1                      7-4

1980                     Jerry Stovall                        7-4                         7-5                         3-7-1

1984                     Bill Arnsparger                   8-3-1                     4-7                         9-2-1   

1987                     Mike Archer                        10-1-1                  9-3                         8-4

1991                     Curley Hallman                  5-6                         5-6                         2-9

1995                     Gerry DiNardo                   7-4-1                     4-7                         10-2

2000                     Nick Saban                          8-4                         3-8                         10-3

2005                     Les Miles                              11-2                      9-3                         11-2

2016                     Ed Orgeron                         6-2                         9-3                         9-4

2022                     Brian Kelly                           10-4                      6-7                         TBD

In only two of ten previous regimes was there a marked improvement from the debut season of the LSU coach to his second year in command at Death Valley. Gerry DiNardo and Nick Saban lifted their teams to new heights the second time around at Tiger Stadium.

They won ten games in their encore campaigns after taking charge of depleted operations. LSU was 4-7 the year before DiNardo arrived. Five years later, Saban arrived after eight of eleven losing seasons and a 3-8 disaster in 1999.

Arnsparger was the only other coach to improve his record, but his 1985 Tigers failed to score an offensive touchdown against the only teams on their schedule with winning records, Florida and Baylor.

The 1985 Tigers were not an exceptionally coached team. With Michael Brooks, Karl Dunbar, Toby Caston, Dalton Hilliard, Garry James, Eric Andolsek, Nacho Albergamo, Wendell Davis and a solid senior quarterback, Jeff Wickersham, the ’85 Tigers should have defeated every team on the schedule. They were unspectacular at 9-2-1 after showing promise in 1984 against a challenging slate of opponents.

Kelly posted identical 8-5 marks in his first two years at Notre Dame in 2010-11. His team in 2011 lost its opener at home, 23-20, to South Florida and fell 18-14 to Jimbo Fisher and Florida State in the Citrus Bowl.

The two pivotal games this season for Kelly are the contest to open the season Sept. 7 at Orlando against Florida State and the regular season finale at home against Jimbo Fisher on Nov. 25.

Kelly strives to lead LSU to victory in its first game since the 2019 championship season. Starts for the last three seasons have been disastrous with defeats to Mississippi State, UCLA and Florida State. And Kelly is 0-3 in his career against Jimbo, who was offered his job and turned it down to stay at College Station.

There is some real hate between LSU and Texas A&M, but LSU must win this year or Jimbo, who is 3-2 vs. the Tigers, may be channeling his inner Tommy Tuberville and lighting up at midfield. Unlike Tuberville, Fisher does know the three branches of government. He may talk like a good old boy, but Jimbo is gifted with a smart football mind, and this is a critical year for him after his Aggies failed to go bowling in 2022.

Kelly could go 4-8 and keep his job because of his outlandish 90-percent buyout. This was likely a reason why LSU was an attractive career move. Kelly told Tiger Rag Editor Todd Horne he was earning $9 million a year at South Bend, so money was not as much of an issue as security and coaching an SEC powerhouse.

Statistically, Jayden Daniels had a superior junior season as a transfer starter than Joe Burrow did in 2018.  Burrow, Matt Flynn and Matt Mauck were senior quarterbacks when LSU captured national titles in 2019, 2007 and 2003.

Perhaps lightning will strike a fourth time, and Kelly can avoid the sophomore jinx that has plagued more of his predecessors.

LSU Snubbing Alan Faneca

There are 371 Pro Football Hall of Famers among 4,000 players in the game during its storied history. The odds of entering the shrine at Canton, Ohio are fewer than one percent. When two teams play an NFL game, statistically only one player on the field is likely to be a Hall of Famer when he retires.

LSU is one of the most celebrated programs in the college football pantheon and boasts six Pro Football Hall of Famers in Steve Van Buren, Y.A. Tittle, Jimmy Taylor, Johnny Robinson, Kevin Mawae and Alan Faneca.

Faneca was the last to be enshrined in 2021. Two years later, there is no plaque on the display in front of Tiger Stadium honoring LSU’s members. This is a snub of the great offensive lineman lured to LSU 29 years ago by Coach Hudson “Curley” Hallman.

LSU invested $51 million on football last year and does not possess resources or lacks inclination to honor Faneca two years after he delivered one of the most stirring acceptance speeches in the history of the ceremony at Canton.

LSU President William Tate IV has allowed Faneca to be ignored by his alma mater for an honor so profound that Billy Cannon, Jerry Stovall and Tommy Casanova were not considered Pro Football Hall of Fame worthy.  Tate was more than willing forcefully inject himself in the Sue Gunter Court drama across the street from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

LSU Is salivating for more corporate sponsorships at the PMAC. A suggestion for the basketball court is that the Dale Brown side be sponsored by Muscle Milk, 25 grams of protein and no sugar, to salute a coach who set an example for physical prowess. The Sue Gunter side should be sponsored by Winston – “Tastes good like a cigarette should.”

While Tate dabbles in intrigue at the basketball arena, surely he has noted a two-year omission of Faneca’s name on a display in one of the most prominent locations on campus. Yards from the PMAC, the place where the LSU president first paid tribute to Dale Brown, then informed him on his birthday at T.J. Ribs that he had changed his mind about Brown’s name being singularly featured on the court.

It appears Tate is oblivious to LSU history, but he cares deeply about retaining the luxury of Covid cash. He has been blessed not to slice his budget like King Alexander, the LSU president who preceded him and endured 13 cuts during the Jindal years.

The next governor and future LSU Board will have a tougher scorecard to judge Tate’s performance. Current university leaders are tethered to Tate because they hired him.

Tate can partially make amends by showcasing the names of Van Buren, Tittle, Taylor, Robinson, Mawae and Faneca in the LSU ring of honor inside the stadium where their Hall of Fame voyages began.

Mr. President, please find a local merchant to carve a plaque for Faneca on the Fernando and Gladys Martinez display where the football team enters the arena.

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