Jim Engster: Strong rebuttal required for Coach O

Ten years ago this month, former LSU football star Greg LaFleur was fired as Southern University athletics director after charges of solicitation were levied against him as he was attending the NCAA Final Four in Houston.

LaFleur opted for a trial rather than cop a plea, took the stand in his defense and convinced a jury to acquit him in fewer than 45 minutes.

Despite his innocence, the damage was done as LaFleur was not reinstated at Southern and received a small settlement. In the decade since, he remains radioactive and has been invited to just one interview (at Tuskegee) for an athletic director position.

LaFleur had previously served as associate athletic director at LSU and showed his administrative prowess by navigating the minefield of politics that creaks into every crevice of the campus at his alma mater.

He could not overcome a false charge of soliciting an undercover officer on Main Street in Houston. His case drew national attention on a weekend when 68 other men were charged with the identical offense.

LaFleur’s outcome reveals the peril in passing judgment before all evidence is collected in cases of alleged impropriety. It also shows the uneven and uncomfortable process at universities dispensing penalties against officials accused of sexual transgressions.

When Woody Hayes was fired as a reigning legend at Ohio State University in 1978, it occurred in the Gator Bowl when the Buckeyes’ 65-year-old football coach slugged Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman, who was two generations younger and wearing pads and a helmet. That altercation provided too much unwanted touching from a coach, who briefly reverted to his days as a combatant.

Les Miles continued as LSU coach after his bosses were made aware of alleged groping incidents to the point that he reached a financial settlement with one of his accusers.

Miles was not in the same league as Woody Hayes, whose passion was military history not female anatomy. Woody’s weakness was rage while Miles is depicted as a man consumed with lustful intentions. He was in his 60s when he was allegedly pursuing liaisons with co-eds (preferably blondes with ample cleavage) with as much gusto as he was courting high quality recruits. To his credit (and even more to his wife), he has been married to the same woman for more than 30 years, an elusive accomplishment for many of his peers.

After a typical day, Miles departed the football administration palace and drove in an expensive university car to an exclusive neighborhood with homes in the seven-figure range. He earned around $7 million a year to lose to Nick Saban seven out of ten times.

Woody Hayes was 16-11-1 in his tenure at OSU against hated rival Michigan, alma mater of Miles. When Hayes was fired, his five national titles counted less in his favor than did three straight losses to the Wolverines counted against him.

Hayes received a robust $43,000 a year when he was canned at Columbus. He died in the same house located at 1711 Cardiff Road in Upper Arlington, OH where he lived for 37 years. The Hayes “estate” was a 1632 square foot residence with three bedrooms and one and one half baths. His trips to the OSU campus ROTC headquarters where his office was perched were in the family vehicle, a vintage pickup truck.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is operating in the age of the imperial coach. In 38 states, the highest paid public official is either a university football or basketball coach, who often wields enormous power beyond the ivory towers on their campuses.

Miles brandished enough mojo at the Ole War Skule, he reportedly had a rose bed removed from the grounds of the Journalism School adjacent to Tiger Stadium because that color was banned from campus during the Les Era.

On payday, Orgeron is collecting a check 50 times more than the governor of Louisiana and carries substantial clout as the leader of LSU football, the most prominent brand in our state.

When the football coach at LSU denigrates an accuser, he has the capacity to get others to do the same. When 74-year-old Superdome security worker Gloria Scott stated publicly last week that she asked Coach O to discipline star running back Derrius Guice in 2017, Orgeron summoned a university employee to call Ms. Scott a liar without using the actual term.

Gloria Scott tearfully informed a legislative committee that Guice propositioned her in the crudest of terms while she was on her job in the Superdome over three years ago. She said Orgeron phoned her with LSU associate athletic director Sharon Lewis and Guice in the same room and asked her to speak with Guice.

Scott told lawmakers she declined the invitation and asked the coach to suspend his star for his last game, the Citrus Bowl which the Tigers lost 21-17 to Notre Dame. Guice rushed 21 times for 98 yards and scored LSU’s two touchdowns on pass receptions.

Orgeron claims the conversation never took place. Either he or Gloria Scott is lying. If it is proved that Orgeron is not telling the truth, he should be fired with cause.

No buyout, just goodbye if O is lying. If he is speaking the truth, Orgeron can take measures to convince doubters.

These are advised steps for an innocent man.

1. Orgeron should testify under oath before the legislative committee that questioned Gloria Scott.

2. Orgeron should take a polygraph exam and release the results to the public.

3. Orgeron should welcome the testimony of Sharon Lewis before the committee to indicate whether she was a party to the conversation with Guice as stated by Ms. Scott.

4. Orgeron should release his schedule for the day in question and provide phone records from his office and cell phones.

It is convenient that high level employees present during a sweeping sexual misconduct scandal are no longer in Tigertown. If former President and Chancellor King Alexander, former athletics director Joe Alleva and Miles had stayed, they would be fighting for their jobs and have influential allies as surrogates.

LSU basketball coach Will Wade has retained his job for two years despite incriminating phone calls in which bragged of a “strong ass offer” to a recruit. It is always harder to sanction those who hold positions of authority than it is to hurl bricks at those who are no longer around to retaliate.

Orgeron remains a potent force despite a 5-5 record in 2020 and costing LSU millions of walking away money to fire assistant coaches he hired without interviewing. He is not the invincible force he was 15 months ago, yet he is a charismatic man who is sidestepping the Gloria Scott accusations by insisting he doesn’t recall a conversation she is recollecting in detail.

Orgeron is not stupid and is aware this is a story that will not go away unless he more vigorously defends his honor. If he plays dodge ball on an issue that affects his integrity, Orgeron will be positioned to join the ash bin of LSU history. Miles, Saban and Paul Dietzel are examples of LSU dispensing no unconditional love to national championship football coaches.

It is up to Coach O to decide whether he clears his name by inviting a public hearing as Greg LaFleur did. This is a necessity because joining the witness protection program is not a long-term option.

3 Comments

  1. How could none of the print or electronic media reporters not get a hint of the inappropriate sexual antics going on at LSU for years and years? It is beyond belief that reporters who are on that campus on a daily basis did not pick up one iota of news or rumors or whispers!

    If they did and if they didn’t pursue then they need to receive the same (totally justified) treatment they are calling for for the current head ball coach, the past ball coach, etc.

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