MULE': LSU's Golden Era

In five and a half school years at the helm of LSU athletics, Skip Bertman has had many gratifying moments.

"This is a golden era of Tiger sports,'' Bertman said. "Not just because of me but because a lot of positive factors have come together at this time. And let me add this: only about 20 schools in the country could have done what LSU has accomplished the last few years.''


What Bertman – who coached the Tigers to five national championships in baseball before accepting then-Chancellor Mark Emmert's plea for him to become AD as a compromise to the infighting between him and the Board of Supervisors – meant was success on the field and off. Just this school year, LSU finished in the nation's top five in football (fifth) and men's basketball (third) and women's basketball (third), a feat accomplished only once before, by North Carolina in 1997; the Tigers also were the first SEC school whose two basketball teams each won championships the same season.


Since he took over, LSU has won nine SEC championships and seven national championships, adding to the Tigers' SEC-best 43 NCAA titles.


On top of that, he's trying to cement LSU's place in the elite mix with facilities improvements and construction. It's jarring to realize that between 1980 and 1999, LSU spent $20 million for that purpose. Between 2000 – when Bertman became AD – through 2010, LSU is projected to spend $200 million on facilities.


Those expenditures are in addition to the $1.5 million the athletic department annually gives the university.


"It's amazing what good teams representing a school, any university, can do,'' Bertman said. "People across the nation who never heard of LSU may have heard or seen something about Louisiana State University that may have piqued their interest, as potential students, teachers, whatever. Nobody would say sports in more important than academics, they are not. But nobody wears purple t-shirts with "LSU Physics'' across the chest.


"Let's face it: Sports is the front porch of any university's house.''


Obviously, Bertman is determined to have a neat veranda to present to the sports world.

Clearly he's done an excellent job as the face of LSU athletics, particularly since he wasn't prepped for it. Bertman was ready for the life of a motivational speaker when Emmert called. "The Chancellor appealed to me to help LSU, and I couldn't say no,'' Bertman said.


So how is the athletic directorship different from the dugout?


"I miss (close contact with) the kids,'' said Bertman, whose 870-330-3 career record is the highest winning percentage in SEC baseball history, "and I miss a close game in the seventh inning. You know, matching wits with another coach in a game where every move matters. I do miss that.''


He does not miss the travel and missing quality time with his family and grandkids. He had his fill of missing moments with them, and passed the point where he wanted to recruit 18-year old kids. "I had enough of going into a home and saying to some prospect, "Hey, did you catch Brittany Spears last night? Is she hot or what!''


Bertman was ready for a change, and he feels he has brought something to the table as the AD. He sees himself as a coaches' athletic director. Noting neither of the last two LSU ADs (Bob Brodhead, Joe Dean), covering more than two decades, ever coached, gives him an edge in the job. "I listen to their needs, and I give them what they really need to win. Maybe not immediately, but when it can be done. I want them – all of them – to win, and I'll provide what I can to that end. Coaches here are limited only by their vision.''


Very little of his second career has caught Bertman off guard. "Nothing in this job has surprised me,'' he said, "except maybe that here the current AD gets the blame for everything that has gone wrong over the last half-century. There are fans and their fathers who are still hot over something that happened years before anybody here now ever got here in the first place.



"One other thing are the emails asking ‘Can we throw Uncle Harry's ashes over Tiger Stadium?'' It happens a lot more than you think.


"But, you know what, the fans here are passionate, and we need that. Any program does. As long as fans are passionate that's good news because it means they care. Bad news for any program's fans is apathy. That's a sign their hearts are not really into it, so I feel fortunate.''


Those passionate fans, though, may be nudging Bertman into the toughest decision he'll have to make as AD: What if Smoke Laval, his hand-picked successor, finishes with a sub-standard record (and they were 26-13, 6-9 in the SEC entering the weekend series at Ole Miss)? Fans have been staying away from Alex Box Stadium in droves, sending a message they are dissatisfied.


"They are,'' Bertman said, "but, you know, Smoke wins. "Through last year he had the best record in the SEC (75-43-1, .634), and got us to two College World Series.''


Though he didn't say it, Laval seems to suffer from spoiled fans who compare what he's done to his predecessor's handful of No. 1 pennants. "But, you know, Smoke had a lot to do with that,'' he reminded of Laval's 10 years as an assistant while Bertman's program was getting started.


"The thing about baseball,'' Bertman said, "is you've got to wait to the end of the season (to evaluate performance and conditions). I've seen it before: make the (SEC) playoffs, and the next thing you know you're in the World Series.''




Marty Mule' is a retired sports writer from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, is a featured columnist for Tiger Rag and can be reached at

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