FEINSWOG: Is sustained success possible?

Rob Evans was in town a couple of weeks ago. He sat on the Arkansas bench as an assistant coach to a guy 22 years his junior.

Evans, 61, was the Southeastern Conference coach of the year in 1997, the same season he turned down LSU when it offered him the job as head coach.

Evans and his wife had a great tour of campus. Then-athletic director Joe Dean offered him the job, one that came with way more money than the one he had at Ole Miss.

Dean was certain Evans was his man.

The next day, Evans told his team he was staying.

Dean called John Brady at Samford and offered him the LSU job, which he accepted.

The only other serious candidate was Jerry Green, who ultimately ended up at Tennessee and failed there.

Evans? He stayed another year at Ole Miss and then took the job as head coach at Arizona State. He made the NIT three times, the NCAA once (making it into the second round in 2003) and then was let go in 2006 after his fifth losing season in his eight years.

Future hall of famers weren't exactly banging down the door to the Assembly Center to take over that seat at the end of the LSU bench.

The point here isn't to argue that John Brady shouldn't have been fired last week as LSU's coach. It was time, perhaps past time, and regardless of the circumstances, LSU needs a new direction.

But try to remember what the program was like when Brady took over.

Dale Brown was LSU's coach the previous 25 years. He took the program to new heights that included trips to the 1981 and 1986 Final Fours. His personality alone put the team on the map; the great players he got to don the purple and gold compile a remarkable list.

Things, however, ended on a terrible downturn. When Brown bowed out in 1997, his program had hit rock bottom.

Brown's last four years:

1993-94 – 11-16 overall, 5-11 SEC

1994-95 – 12-15, 6-10

1995-96 – 12-17, 4-12

1996-97 – 10-20, 3-13

The reasons were many, not the least of which was some horrible evaluation of talent by Brown's assistant coaches. There were injuries, most notably to Randy Livingston whose ailing knee, you could argue, sent the program into a spiral from which it wouldn't recover.

And after Brown left, the effects of the Lester Earl-to-Kansas NCAA penalties put the new coach, Brady, in a bad way.

With the help of two of his best friends, Butch Pierre, now the guy occupying his seat through the end of the season, and Kermit Davis Jr., head coach at Middle Tennessee since 2002, Brady rebuilt LSU basketball.

After two losing seasons at the start, LSU won the SEC and made it to the NCAA tournament's round of 16.

Another losing season followed, but then the Tigers had five straight winning years, capped off by the incredible run to the 2006 Final Four that also included another SEC title.

But things went south fast. The parade of players leaving Brady's program continued, whether it was the handful of stars leaving early for the NBA (consider that Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis would be seniors at LSU this year!) or disgruntled players transferring.

Because he made it to the Final Four the year before, Brady got a mulligan last season when the Tigers finished 17-15 overall but last in the SEC Western Division at 5-11.

When yet another couple of players transferred, the team's best player was lost to injury, and games this season that should have been won were lost, you knew the end was near.

Brady had no more chips to cash in. He'd ticked off too many people over the years and attendance was dismal.

You can look at the program in a few different ways.

On one hand, you can argue that it's a gold mine waiting to be tapped again at a school where winning is important and money is there to hire the best coach available.

You could also make the case that LSU plays in one of the worst few arenas in the SEC and its fan base is relatively small and blasé. There are about 4,000 hard-core LSU basketball fans. There are about another 4,000 who will show up consistently if things are going really well. And there are another 4,000 or so who will show up if the team is great and the opponent is exciting.

That is an entirely different column for another day, but don't be fooled into thinking that a new coach is going to get to that last group of 4,000 unless he puts one heck of a good product on the floor.

What's more, the next coach will inherit a program that, despite the Final Four trip, has had nine losing seasons in 15 years.

Again, you can look at that in different ways, too.

Nick Saban took over an LSU football program that had eight losing seasons in 11 years and four years later won the national title.

Of course, equating football and basketball at LSU is impossible. But plenty of basketball teams in America have made quick turnarounds.

The key is making that turnaround and then staying consistently at a high level. There simply aren't that many programs that can make that claim.

Can LSU be one of them? Let's hope the next coach has high energy, a galvanizing and effervescent personality and can recruit with anyone. It's the only way to get that group of 4,000 back into the Assembly Center.

Basketball at LSU is way more fun when the Tigers win and the building is packed and national TV is interested in showing the games.

But that's happened so infrequently the past 15 years that you have to wonder if it's possible.


Baton Rouge sportswriter Lee Feinswog is the host of the weekly television show "Sports Monday." He's covered LSU athletics since 1984. His book "HoopDaddy" is available at www.HoopDaddy.net. Contact Lee at sportsmonday@aol.com or (225) 926-3256.

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