MULE': Sitting down with a legend

It's a horse race, as spring practice gets underway: JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Perrilloux, Matt Flynn?

One will be LSU's starting quarterback next Fall, and a case can be made for each.

"It's a nice problem to have,'' Paul Dietzel was thinking the other day. "Three talented guys at quarterback,'' he said. "It's also a dilemma, because one's going to play and two aren't. Sometimes that can be a bigger problem.''

The trump card for LSU in this situation, according to Dietzel, is Les Miles, who has proven to the former Tiger coach that the current head man can handle the most demanding and the most delicate of circumstances with equal aplomb. "If you doubt it, all you have to do go back and remember what he did last season,'' Dietzel, the former LSU coach, now a youthful 81 and a resident of Baton Rouge, said admiringly.

All coaches have to be prepared to deal with the unexpected, but what Miles – entering his first season at LSU along with a virtually brand new staff – had to contend with six months ago was almost incomprehensible, Dietzel said, adding, "and he came through beautifully.''

Of course, we all know the backdrop of LSU's Season of Katrina: The Tigers were scheduled to open with three straight home games, against North Texas, Arizona State and Tennessee. But the tattered condition of the state after August 29th, when Katrina made landfall, forced a postponement of the North Texas date, and then, with the LSU campus functioning as a medical center for 6,000 of the afflicted and a refuge for 28,000 of the dispossessed, the game with Arizona State was switched to the desert, more than a thousand miles from home, five days before it was to be played.

In a surreal spectacle, Blackhawk helicopters flew over LSU practices, bringing the injured, sick and weary for treatment at the Maravich Assembly Center, just across the street from Tiger Stadium, which was being used for a triage in the emergency.

The Tigers themselves, asked to take in some of the homeless, with as many as a dozen or more staying in their apartments, were also not in the best condition. They were fatigued from lack of sleep and they lost an average of seven pounds – some twice that – because of poor and irregular eating habits during the ordeal.

"Just an awful situation,'' Dietzel said shaking his head. "You have to wonder just how do you handle something with the sheer enormity of this?''

Very well, in the case of Miles, was Dietzel's conclusion.

Somehow the Tigers won 11 of their 13 games (and no LSU team won as many games without finishing No. 1), were 5-1 in games decided by four or fewer points and 3-1 in games decided by three or fewer points. They played in three overtime games, more than any other team in the country, and won two. Although LSU did not win the SEC, the Tigers won the SEC West for the third time in five years – won or shared it for the fifth time since 1992.

On the field, LSU defeated four teams that finished in the top 17, the best performance in the country by that measuring stick. Only two other teams, national champion Texas and runner-up Southern Cal, won as many games against teams in the final AP Top 25.

"You know what I think?'' Dietzel asked. "I think Les Miles should have been the Coach of the Year. He did an awesome job.

"Picking out the right quarterback, and putting together the best team LSU can field next season should be no problem for Les Miles. I have a lot of faith in his capabilities." There was a definite air of satisfaction when the discussion turned to last football season, one which brought a wide smile to the face of Paul Dietzel.

Other than coaching the national champion LSU Tigers 48 years ago, Dietzel, now a youthful 81 years and a resident of Baton Rouge,

Marty Mule' can be reached at

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