MULE': Skip to be remembered as 'Coaches' AD

Sixteen months from now, Skip Bertman will leave LSU entrenched among the highest pantheon of Tiger athletic directors.

That's no small achievement. LSU has a legacy of extraordinary men heading the athletic department and doing extraordinary things while in office. Bertman, who last week announced his impending retirement, ranks with the best of them, overseeing seven national championship programs and adding to the Tigers' SEC-best 43 NCAA titles.


The football team enjoyed two straight Top 5 finishes, and both the men's and women's basketball teams made their Final Fours.


Fancying himself as "a coach's AD,'' Bertman, who himself coached LSU to five national championships in baseball, says he provides whatever it takes for each program and coach to win. "Coaches here are limited only by their vision,'' he says. And the record backs up the statement.


At the same time Bertman has directed Tiger sports, he's tried 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.


Whoever follows Bertman will have huge cleats to fill.


"It's amazing what good teams representing a school, any university, can do,'' Bertman once explained about his tenure. "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 is 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.''


The veranda of LSU seems even more alluring than ever.


What's interesting about Bertman's extraordinary across-the-board success heading up Tiger athletics is that it came about because of (Louisiana politics being what they are) an infernal and predictable squabble between factions of the LSU Board of Supervisors, who wanted to pick Joe Dean's successor as AD, and then-Chancellor Mark Emmert, who wanted someone of his choosing.


Emmert outsmarted the Board by suggesting a compromise candidate no Tiger could vote against – Bertman, who was preparing 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.


This was one time the rough-and-tumble world of Louisiana politics paid off. It hasn't always.


Six other men have occupied the position Bertman has, and every one made lasting contributions to what we now recognize as an outstanding program. Skipper Heard was the father of LSU's physical plant, the force behind several expansions of Tiger Stadium and for housing of the men's dorms once contained in the structure. Jim Corbett was a visionary who not only advanced the progress of the overall program but was instrumental in the growth of college football on television. Several facilities were built under the regime of Carl Maddox, who also kept strictly balanced books. So-called "minor sports'' began receiving more recognition and support under Paul Dietzel. Bob Brodhead had an uncanny knack of picking outstanding coaches like Bill Arnsparger, Sue Gunter, and a little-known University of Miami assistant named Skip Bertman. For all his acumen for finding coaches, Brodhead almost broke the LSU bank. Dean was mandated to fill the coffers again. In Dean's tenure, LSU again became solvent.


The point is, they all contributed.


But they did not all leave with the happy ending Bertman will.


•Heard was pushed out after 23 years on the job, undone largely because of his push with the Louisiana Legislature to enlarge Tiger Stadium, which would delay a new library that the school president favored – and because the Board wanted to clean house along with football coach Gus Tinsley.


•Maddox was retired in a similar situation when he reached age 70 and the Board was looking for a gracious way – and AD – to get rid of football coach Charlie McClendon.


•Dietzel, the man given the job of terminating Charlie Mac, was undone by an alleged million-dollar athletic department deficit, according to a study by then-Chancellor James Wharton that was later said to be bogus by none other than Dietzel's successor, Bob Brodhead.


•Brodhead himself was undone by a series of ethics charges and resigned for "the best interests of all concerned.''            


For those who have lived through a significant portion of LSU athletics history, it was a blessing to see Bertman get a "golden parachute'' for his retirement – $450,000 per annum for one more year as AD, two years as a fund raiser, then a happy retirement.


He deserves it, but things don't always happen that way at the Ole War Skule.





Marty Mule' can be reached at

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