Jim Engster: Tate to be an active leader

When LSU President and Chancellor-Elect William Tate was born in 1961, there were no African American athletes at the state’s flagship university where no person of color enrolled as an undergraduate until 1953.

Tate was eight years old when LSU track standout Lloyd Wills broke the color barrier in 1969 and became the first African American to participate in sports for the Tigers. Two years later, Lora Hinton was the first African American football player to sign with the Bengals.

The 2021 LSU football roster is composed of a roster of 94 players including 70 (74.4 percent) African Americans. The signature sport on campus will appropriately showcase a minority leader of the Ole War Skule, cheering the Tigers this fall in suites customarily occupied by white business people, some of whom actually graduated from LSU.

Tate is ironing out his contract, and he should make certain he is on solid footing at a place where politics often overshadows performance.

LSU remains a university where leadership positions are dominated by white men. Only five African Americans have been head coaches at LSU with Pokey Chatman, Johnny Jones and Tony Minnis hired and fired. Trent Johnson and Nikki Fargas skipped town a few paces ahead of their firing squads.

Tate must navigate a sexual misconduct minefield that has shaken the foundation on campus and damaged the LSU brand. Faculty members are prepared to allow President Tate a brief honeymoon, but many will demand that he take additional action against the main actors in the Husch Blackwell Report.

Tate must act courageously or will die a quick death at a place not known for patience. Football Coach Ed Orgeron has yet to fully answer questions about his handling of Derrius Guice, a major figure in the sordid allegations of wrongdoing.

As former President King Alexander learned in his saga with Les Miles, there is hell to play either for dropping the hammer or letting nature take its course. Athletic Director Joe Alleva had no hesitation when he fired a winning tennis coach in Minnis. Yet Alleva punted when he recommended the dismissal of Miles for his misdeeds. He lacked the gumption to do it himself, even though he was Miles’ boss.

Tate has full authority to fire any perpetrator of wrongdoing, and he should dare the LSU Board to get in his way if he dismisses a football coach or any other employee.

The Board voted 15-0 (Lori Lipsey Aronson missed the meeting) to hire Tate. The provost from the University of South Carolina was secured to preside as a strong leader, not a yes man.

Best of luck to Bill Tate.

2021 is not 1961

Two days after William Tate was hired at LSU, the Tigers’ 1961 SEC baseball team was saluted in a ceremony at the Jack Andonie Museum.

The team, which featured LSU quarterback Lynn Amedee as a star pitcher and future U.S. Judge Frank Polozola as a catcher, lost only five games to reign as the only Tiger baseball league champion between 1946 and 1975.

The 1961 Tigers were not allowed to represent LSU and the SEC in the NCAA Tournament because LSU might face teams with African American athletes.

That was the rule of the university in 1961, the year that Tate, an African American, was born.

There is irony in the fact that the school that would not compete against minority players six decades ago has become the first university among the 14 SEC members to place an African American in the No. 1 spot on campus.

Remembering James Wharton: 1937-2021

Jim Wharton served as LSU chancellor from 1981-88 and is remembered by fans for firing Paul Dietzel and Jerry Stovall and hiring Bob Brodhead, Joe Dean, Bill Arnsparger and Mike Archer.

Wharton blessed those firings and hirings, or they would not have happened. He did not rule timidly at his alma mater. He had played football at NLU and loved the roar of the crowd, especially when his son Scott became a superb lineman for the Tigers. Wharton ruled the athletic kingdom with the same authority he commanded in the classroom as a legendary professor.

Wharton helped craft the TOPS program with Board member Pat Taylor and was the catalyst for the start of the LIGA project which garnered LSU part of a Nobel Prize in 2018.

The former chancellor won a battle of titans against former Gov. John McKeithen, who resisted LSU’s change to selective admissions. The move resulted in LSU doubling its graduation rate.

Dale Brown outpointed Wharton in the fight over naming the Assembly Center in honor of Pete Maravich in 1988. Wharton admired Pistol Pete’s supreme basketball prowess, but resisted a prominent building on campus named after a poor student who did not graduate.

Wharton continued to teach chemistry almost three decades after departing the chancellor’s office. He was a brilliant scholar who recorded a perfect score on the GRE when he arrived in Baton Rouge as a graduate student.

Wharton was 83 when he died last month. He was born eleven days before Billy Cannon, and as it did with the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner, LSU should pay tribute to a leader who loved LSU in abundance.

His charismatic wife Joan and devoted daughter Sherri steered Wharton through good times and bad. Wharton was named LSU chancellor at 43 and guided the university through a decade when higher education funding was devastated by an economic collapse in the oil patch.

He kept the university whole during an uncertain period, and his successors have benefitted immensely from his wisdom and his legacy.

Gov. Buddy Roemer: 1943-2021

Buddy Roemer was an impressionable 16-year-old senior at Bossier High School when Billy Cannon raced 89 yards to beat Ole Miss on Halloween of 1959.

A few months later, Roemer opted to enroll at Harvard rather than LSU, but he never forgot his home state or its top university. He wrote a chapter about his emotional connection to the Tigers in his 2017 memoir.

LSU’s Pleasant Hall was the last stop for the Roemer Revolution in 1987 and early 1988 as the governor-elect used the building named after the state’s 36th governor as his transition headquarters.

Roemer, Louisiana’s 52nd governor, left the Mansion at 48 after losing the 1991 gubernatorial primary to Edwin Edwards and Dave Duke.

When he died in May at age 77, he had lived almost half his life in Baton Rouge. The former governor was a more than occasional spectator at LSU athletic events and recognized the importance of LSU football to the fortunes of Louisiana chief executives.

The Tigers lost 23 of 45 games when he was governor and went 5-6 in the re-election year of ’91.

John Bel Edwards scored a narrow re-election victory in 2019 as LSU went 15-0 and captured a national championship. So far, Edwards has enjoyed a 47-16 LSU football record in five seasons in charge of state affairs.

The disparity in football success helps explain why Edwards is a two-term governor while Roemer and David Treen, two candidates who lost bids for a second term, were defeated. Treen and Roemer presided over a combined LSU football record of 44-44-1 in their eight years at the helm.

Treen oversaw a 4-7 debacle from the 1983 Bengals as he waged war on the campaign trail against Edwin Edwards, who famously said: “The only way I can lose is if I am caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”

The Cajun Prince should have amended his quip by adding: “or if LSU wins the national title.”

It was the aforementioned Jim Wharton, who once opined that when LSU has a great season, it makes people happy about the state’s direction. When the Tigers stumble, Wharton lamented that the whole state slips into a deep funk.

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