TIGER RAG Q&A: A visit with Skip Bertman

Tiger Rag will present this lengthy conversation with LSU athletic director Skip Bertman in a three-part series beginning in this edition with the details surrounding the LSU football program.

Tiger Rag editor Matt Deville had the opportunity to sit down with LSU athletic director Skip Bertman on Tuesday afternoon. In that discussion, Bertman chatted about the last two months inside the LSU football program, the departure of Nick Saban, the hiring of Les Miles and the fallout that followed. Also, the fourth year AD discussed the major construction projects currently underway at LSU plus the success of women's sports, the future of the men's basketball program and an array of topic surrounding baseball.  


Deville: What exactly did you have to do when preparing for the possibility of Nick Saban making a jump to the NFL?

Bertman: About three weeks to a month before the announcement was made, I had to take action to assume that he was going to go. Although I must tell people that it was a really tough decision. He did really like it here – his wife and family – but the billionaire kept coming. Huizenga wouldn't go away. There came a decision (for Saban), "will I ever be able to coach in the NFL?" So I think that was about what it boiled down to.

I started about a month before Nick made his decision, although I wasn't sure. But I wanted to get to work on it. So we were able to move on it where we decided on Jan. 3 as a date to make an announcement for a good coach like Les Miles. It is tough because it took a month of work and then another month to get the coach then another month to get a staff. It has been a tough several months.



Deville: Have you spoken with Saban since he left?

Bertman: I have had no communication with him.



Deville: Discuss the details into the search and hiring process of Les Miles.

Bertman: We had a search firm, the same firm that got Saban, and the same as last time, you tell those guys what you are willing to offer and what you are looking for and he goes out and ascertains who was available. Of course, we gave him some wide parameters and he went out and came back with 13, 14 even 15 guys. It starts that way then of course becomes a telephone game with other people outside the search committee. You find out who is interested, who wants to go through the search committee or does not. There are some people that want to keep it personal to stay out of the media. They don't want to take a chance.


There were two parameters of the search that were important here. First, I did not want to pay $3 million for a football coach. Or two and half, even two. I don't mind if Les Miles gets back up to two and a half even three, but that could happen if does his job here the way Nick did it. He is starting with Saban-like money when Saban started here, which is still a lot. But he gave up more money than he had at Oklahoma State. That was one parameter in the search. The second one was we didn't want to be used by the schools to beef up the present coach's stock, which is what happens 75-perecnt of the time. In 75-perecent of those cases, the guy really isn't interested or even if he really is, when he gets back home, they find out how much they really love him.


I didn't want either of those things to happen and I was very meticulous in avoiding that.



Deville: Were you surprised by the way the Louisville athletic department and fans treated coach Bobby Petrino when he spoke with LSU?

Bertman: The one thing that everyone has to do, I had to do it, you have to call the other AD and ask for permission before you can speak to their coach. Some AD's, like Petrino's AD, goes straight to the media. They hang up the phone, pick it up again and say "LSU has contacted Bobby." That puts everybody under a tremendous amount of pressure, especially on the coach to move the process along. Other guys don't do that. Petrino's did. We would never release anything to the media.



Deville: How do you think Miles has handled the pressure of the job so far, hiring a staff and reeling in a recruiting class after there were plenty of critics saying he doesn't stack up with his predecessor in Nick Saban?

Bertman: Let's review this for a moment. This requires a little education process. People don't know a lot about sports and they think they do. This guy had a better record than Nick did when he came here. Nobody knew who Nick was. It wasn't even a contest. The problem is now people think we are supposed to get the coach from USC or Oklahoma because we are stepping it up. I don't want to pay $3 million for one of those guys. I don't think that is the way to go. Not that they are going to win any more game then Les Miles either, but that is not the correct procedure for an athletic director in my opinion.


I think people assume that Knute Rockne's great, great, great, great grandson had to be the one or Bear Bryant's nephew, like there is some secret. There is no secret. This guy is the same as Saban. He is a 24-hour a day coachaholic that was at a state school that was being overshadowed by another stats school. It is a gracious recruiter like Saban.


We made 40, 50 maybe 60 phone calls to ex players, coaches that coached against him and for him, sports writers and various people and no one had a bad thing to say about him. They said he was a good football coach. Now that he has been here and he has been able to recruit a class that to Saban's credit, has been little attrition, so he can't recruit 25, he could only recruit 12. He could only recruit 12, but if you take the stars in that class and rank them on a percentage basis, this class would be No. 4 in America. With transfers and all, he got 16 good football players in this class.


Then he put his staff together, but he took his time because he knows what he wants. And in that, he reminded me a lot of Nick Saban.


Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this three part series.

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