DEVILLE: We will miss you Sue

There have been several words used to describe the late Sue Gunter.

Pioneer. Legend. Mentor. Exceptional person. Wonderful human being. Coach. Friend.


The list reads on and on.


Since the passing of LSU's longtime women's basketball coach last Thursday morning, the outpouring of emotion from around the country has been overwhelming. It is customary for a person of Gunter's stature to be remembered on such a broad scale, but the comments from her fans, as well as her peers, ring much more than the normal praise for a departed legend.


Anyone who had the opportunity to have met Sue Gunter can consider themselves fortunate. I was blessed with the honor of covering Gunter for one and a half seasons. In 2002-03, I first met coach Gunter as her Lady Tigers were preparing to launch the Seimone Augustus era at LSU. I followed her team through the ups and downs of that year's run to the Elite Eight.


The following season her squad made it to the program's first-ever Final Four. Unfortunately, it did so without its veteran leader. Two months earlier, Gunter was forced from the bench with lung ailments that eventually took her life.


If you read on in this issue of Tiger Rag, you will read three separate accounts from our columnists on their memories of coach Gunter. While I am not as qualified as Lee, Rannah or Jim, I would like to take a moment to share a couple of special memories I have of a special coach known only as "Sue."


I will forever recall my first-ever interview with Sue. After practice one fall afternoon in 2002, I sprinted up to coach as she was getting into her Ford Expedition. She apologized and said she was late for another appointment, but stood there for 20 or so minutes patiently answering my questions.

When the interview was complete, I thanked her for her time.


She replied, No, Matt, thank you.


It was a response that somewhat startled me. In a day and age where coaches are paid lots of money and tend to be a bit short with members of the media (especially ones that make them late for appointments), Sue not only thanked ‘me' for my time but addressed me by name in our first-ever conversation.


I knew from that moment on this was truly a great lady. While I regret that I met her so late in her life, I feel lucky to have had the honor of sitting in a postgame press conference and watching Sue at her best.


Very polished with the media, Sue handled a room like no other coach I have ever seen. Decades of dealing with not only the media but people in general gave some insight on why Sue was beloved by anyone who knew her.


In the short period of time I covered her teams, I was fortunate to see 40-plus years of hardwork pay off as Sue's Lady Tigers reached the pinnacle of women's college hoops. LSU opened the 2003-03 season ranked No. 2 in the nation. With its prized freshman at the helm, the Lady Tigers ripped through the regular season in a highly-anticipated matchup with Pat Summitt's Tennessee Lady Vols.

In the days since her death, there have been several stories told about Sue's love for the women's game. That the growth of the sport was always more important than winning a national title. Sue's only wish was to see the Maravich Center filled to the rafters with people to see a women's basketball game.


On Feb. 23, 2003, Sue got her wish.


Over 15,000 fans slammed the PMAC for a Sunday afternoon showdown with the Lady Vols. Although her team came out on the short end of a 68-65 loss, Gunter couldn't repress a smile in the postgame.


As sportswriter Scott Rabalais so eloquently put it in last Friday's edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate, although we are objective members of the media, you couldn't help but to pull for Sue Gunter.


Less than a month after that memorable loss to Tennessee in Baton Rouge, I, as a member of the media, had my objectivity challenged in Little Rock, Ark. Gunter's team ran past that same Tennessee team 78-62 to win the SEC Tournament title. While I stood silent on the hardwood of Alltel Arena in downtown Little Rock, I was cheering wildly in my heart as Sue climbed to the top of that ladder and clipped the final piece of the nets.


I recall after her team lost to Texas in the Elite Eight just a few weeks later, I got a call from LSU women's basketball SID Brian Miller informing me Sue was inviting select members of the media for lunch. While I was new to this annual event, Sue always bought lunch for the working media that covered the Lady Tigers. We, eight or so media members and Sue, chowed down on brisket and barbeque at T.J. Ribs. I'll have to say that was a first.


Less than a year later, I can recall being at the Supedome covering LSU's win over Oklahoma in the national championship game. During the game, someone in the press box said the Lady Tigers beat Arizona tonight back in Baton Rouge, but Sue missed the game.


I can recall her saying she had missed just a handful of game's in her career, the last being in the mid 90s to attend her mother's funeral. This wasn't like Sue. But she missed most of the rest of the season with a bout of acute bronchitis. Some speculated would Sue ever return to the bench. She did for two games – road trips to Arkansas and Georgia – but during that trip to Athens, the old coach looked tired and short of breath. It turned out to be her last game on the bench.


It seemed unfair that the team's first-ever trip to the Final Four came without Gunter at the helm. But assistant coach Pokey Chatman led the Lady Tigers to the national semifinals in New Orleans a month later and fell in a heartbreaker to Tennessee. While the team battled on the hardwood in its home state, Gunter watched with anxious anticipation in a nearby hotel room, not wanting to serve as a distraction to her team.


I can recall having Sue on our weekly radio show Tiger Rag Friday a few months later. When asked would she return, in typical Sue Gunter fashion she said she would do everything in her power.


While many were hopeful, Gunter retired shortly thereafter. When she announced her retirement a month later, there was not a dry eye in the house as Sue removed the oxygen tubes so she could address the media one final time. It was one of the powerful moments in my life when I knew I was in the presence of greatness.


Sadly, I can recall the last time I saw coach Gunter. It was Chatman's first home game as coach of the Lady Tigers versus Maine on Nov. 11, 2004. Sitting a few feet away from press row, Sue sat quietly with a few friends to cheer on the Lady Tigers. Attached to an oxygen tank, I was surprised to see how Sue had gone down since the previous spring. But I managed to get close enough to wave hello. She returned my greeting with a wink and a wave.


Last Thursday morning, I sat at my desk like any other Thursday morning when my phone rang around 10:30. It was a call I always assumed I would get, but it still left me speechless staring at my office walls. As I hung up the phone, I thought back to the June morning in the summer of 2002 when I learned of Wally Pontiff's death. That same sickening sadness slowly gathered in my stomach as I thought back to the times I spent with Sue.


This early Sunday morning as I sit in my office writing this, I know Sue is somewhere watching and waiting for us to hurry up and get all this hoopla over with and get on with our lives. But as time passes her spirit and legacy will live on for generations to come.


We love you Sue.




Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag Magazine. He can be reached by e-mail at

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