COMMENTARY: Interesting Times At LSU

At one end of Thomas Boyd Hall at LSU last Friday was ousted LSU chancellor Sean O'Keefe, moving quietly around the office that he will have to vacate by Feb. 1.

At the other end, acting chancellor Williams Jenkins and LSU president John Lombardi huddled with a search committee hand picked by O'Keefe to find a new athletic director. O'Keefe was not at this meeting, however. But he was at the LSU national championship celebration the next day in Tiger Stadium and was introduced as LSU's chancellor.

Jenkins used to be LSU's chancellor in the 1990s before he became LSU president. He was ousted as president more than a year ago in a silly, politically charged move. Now he's back about where he started. Suddenly, Lombardi has the most uninterrupted tenure of LSU's high-ranking officials at about six months. He just replaced Jenkins as president last summer.

Also at this meeting was Dan Parker of Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search, which will help facilitate LSU's hunt. Parker helped Nebraska hire LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini to be its new head coach last November.

Perhaps while this search firm looks for an LSU athletic director, it can keep an eye open for a chancellor and maybe a new basketball coach. If Lombardi's presidency thing doesn't work out, he could always start his own search firm. It was Lombardi, while he was Florida's president, that helped hire football coach Steve Spurrier, basketball coach Billy Donovan, and athletic director Jeremy Foley. Uh, with Lombardi, who needs a search firm?

These are interesting times at LSU.

Is this the type of climate a rising athletic director somewhere out there wants to enter? Yes.

While LSU obviously needs to get its hierarchy act together for the sake of the university, a new athletic director's primary focus is to roll along quite nicely free of any controversy. There are matters more important than football at a university like LSU, but not as far as making money. And the football program will not be affected by the revolving doors in the LSU administration, which has often been a comedic circus.

When a football program like LSU's is thriving the way it is has for eight years now, it doesn't really matter who is working as athletic director, chancellor or president. As long as those folks realize the monetary and unifying importance of football and strive to stay within NCAA rules and stay out of the way, the program will continue to thrive.

"This is an athletic program that anyone in their right mind would want to lead," Lombardi said. "We want someone who sees this as an opportunity of a lifetime and they want to be here. Attracting the best candidates should not be a problem."

When a football program needs an athletic director or chancellor to step in is when it's in terrible shape, which was the situation at LSU when Mark Emmert became chancellor in the spring of 1999. He realized changes had to be made, and he realized the athletic director at the time – Joe Dean – was not very good at football decisions and at hiring football coaches. So the chancellor took over, and the rest is history. LSU is the football program of the decade thanks to Emmert, Saban, and current athletic director Skip Bertman, who hired current football coach Les Miles.

"This is the premier athletic director search in America right now," Parker said. "It's obviously attractive because you've won two national championships here in the last four years. You're competitive on the national level in a lot of sports. You have the budget, and you have a history."

LSU athletics will not miss Chancellor Sean O'Keefe, who was allowed to resign before being fired. O'Keefe was a rookie with regard to athletics, though he sure liked to hang around it. His big mistake may have been messing with Bertman. O'Keefe was also a rookie as far as leading a university. He was not the greatest hire to begin with. He's an extremely smart individual with excellent contacts in Washington, D.C., but those are not the credentials of a chancellor. He's not an educator. One of the reasons LSU hired the former secretary of the Navy and head of NASA back in 2004 was for the headlines. One of the reasons O'Keefe said he took the job – when cornered by reporters at his hiring – was the significant pay raise.

It's too bad for LSU that Jenkins won't remain as chancellor. Or perhaps he could return to president and let Lombardi become chancellor, a position with which he has as much experience. Either way, Jenkins and Lombardi are two quality educators and university leaders in the class of Emmert.

Perhaps LSU should hold off on the athletic director search and allow Bertman to remain another year while it gets its house in order. He's been the best athletic director LSU has had since Carl Maddox. And it appears LSU needs a chancellor much more than it needs an athletic director at the moment.

As far as Miles is concerned, it doesn't matter. Any new or old hire at LSU should have enough brains to leave a good thing alone. Then LSU can focus on some important non-athletic issues like better dormitories for its regular students and better located dormitories so its students are not murdered.


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