MULE': LSU great Jackson, now on other side

For all we know, Greg Jackson could still be running. That's how clear he was after turning on the afterburners on that 100-yard interception return at Mississippi State that clinched the 1988 SEC championship for LSU.

Ironically, Jackson, an All-American safety that season in which he led the nation in interception return yardage, had another 71 yards against Tulane.

He'll be swapping stories, no doubt, with some of his old teammates Saturday – before the LSU-Tulane game at the Superdome.

"Probably embellishing them, too, just as they will," Jackson laughed. "And we'll all know it."

After a solid NFL career in which he played in a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, Jackson is now a coach. At Tulane.

"Of course I've kept up with LSU and some of my old teammates," he said. "Those were some of the best days of my life. Verg Ausberry (now an associate athletic director at LSU) is still one of my best friends. Our wives speak at least a couple of times a month."

It may take a while before they speak again, seeing as how Ausberry's Tigers are such huge favorites over Jackson's Green Wave.

Still, it's Jackson's job to have his secondary ready to thwart Matt Flynn and all those receivers.

"And Greg is good at his job, too," Ausberry said. "He's really an up-and-coming young coach."

Tulane head coach Bob Toledo concurred. "When I got here (from New Mexico), I was looking for an assistant who knew Louisiana and was also a good coach. Greg (then at Louisiana-Monroe) fit the bill. We've driven around Louisiana checking out prospects.

He knows every nook and cranny of the state, and he knows the high school coaches. Greg's not like a lot of coaches, yelling and being animated to make a point. He's soft-spoken and takes his time to demonstrate what to do. He's really like a teacher on the field."

It will be hard to look across the field and see those familiar gold helmets on the other side, though, won't it?

"No," Jackson said. "I loved LSU and I love my old teammates. But my job now is at Tulane, and I have to try to get these guys ready to play LSU. That will be hard enough."

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Charlie McClendon enters the LSU Hall of Fame this week, the first Tiger coach accorded induction.

No one deserves that recognition more, or waited longer for a kernel of respect from the Tiger base.

When he was forced from his job by the LSU Board of Supervisors in 1979 – because he had the misfortune of coaching at the same time that Bear Bryant's regime was in full flower at Alabama and only won twice against the Crimson Tide in 16 tries – Mac predicted, "I'll be long dead before any man wins as many games as me at LSU."

So here we are, almost three decades later and McClendon dead six years, and he looks like a prophet. Not one of the seven men who served as LSU head football coach since has come close, the best falling 90 victories short. It takes time to build a record, and the most successful of his successors until Les Miles, the current headmaster, were Bill Arnsparger and Nick Saban. Neither of them showed the fealty of McClendon, who was at LSU 27 years, 18 as head coach.

Here are Mac's credentials to the Hall of Fame: At a time when schedules were shorter and bowl games much harder to get invitations to play in, McClendon coached the Tigers to 137 victories, nearly 30 percent of all LSU victories at the time he gave up his coaching duties in 1979 and 70 percent of all games he coached.

He also:

• Coached 17 All-Americans, more than all other LSU coaches combined in the first century of Tiger football;

•  Coached LSU in 13 bowl games, three times beating previously undefeated opponents;

• Coached the Tigers for 18 seasons, the longest tenure of any head coach in LSU annals.

• Twice was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and once National Coach of the Year.

In short, McClendon was the most successful (137-59-7) football coach in Tiger history in terms of victories. The McClendon Era was, if not exactly the golden age of LSU football, then the gold-plated long-term span in the program's history.

While he's not credited with a national championship as a head coach – kind of the gold standard for coaches these days – McClendon was what we now term the defensive coordinator for the 1958 Tigers, the most fabled team in school history, whose greatest strength was defense, and which finished No. 1.

No honor at LSU has ever been more fitting.            


Marty Mule' can be reached at

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