The Rise Of LSU All About Coaching
It's no revelation to say this is the golden era of LSU football, but many don't realize how relatively barren the Tigers' previous football history was.
LSU struggled with consistently winning and recruiting until the year 2000. The Tigers only won seven SEC championships until then and never had played in the SEC championship game. In other words, LSU won seven conference championships in almost 70 years. They won just a single national championship in the same time frame. Contrarily, they have won four conference crowns and two national championships in the last 12 years.
LSU had a hard time keeping in-state talent home and let big-time players go elsewhere. Players such as running backs Marshall Faulk and Warrick Dunn left Louisiana and played for San Diego State and Florida State respectively. Each would have not only brilliant college careers, but incredible careers in the NFL as well.
A lack of consistent coaching is one of the reasons LSU had a difficult time attracting these players. Since Charles McClendon left the program in 1979, LSU couldn’t keep a coach for more than just a few seasons. Unfortunately, the man tabbed to replace McClendon, Bo Rein, died in a plane crash in early 1980 before ever coaching a game. LSU would have five coaches during the next 20 seasons, starting with Jerry Stovall and ending with Gerry DiNardo. Most of the coaches only stayed three or four seasons. DiNardo had the longest tenure at five seasons, 1995-99. DiNardo was fired before the end of the 1999 season, so Hal Hunter coached the final game that year.
It’s very difficult to build in-roads within the state for recruiting purposes when there’s a lack of consistency at the top. It’s challenging for a coach to build or rebuild a program if that coach is only around for three seasons. This means they don’t even get to see their first recruiting class fully develop. Any competent coach or athletic director will tell you the best way to harvest in-state talent is to figuratively build a fence around the state to keep other schools out and retain the state’s best players. This means coaches becoming involved with the high schools and communities throughout the state.
Nick Saban was able to do just that. He keeps the state’s best talent at home. No longer were the top prospects looking elsewhere to play football. They genuinely wanted to play for Saban and their home-state school. Saban broke down whatever barriers may have existed prior to his arrival and signed players such as wide receiver Michael Clayton and defensive end Marcus Spears, two players that were the cornerstone of LSU’s first BCS National Championship team.
Enter Les Miles, who has done an incredible job of maintaining the momentum and relationships that Saban and his coaches built in the state of Louisiana. Miles, by his own right, is an outstanding recruiter and understands the importance of keeping talent at home. Les Miles led LSU to back-to-back 11-2 seasons his first two years. What’s even more impressive is that he accomplished this through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He would follow those 11-win seasons with a 12-2 record in his third year and capture the BCS National Championship.
Miles was in a similar situation at his previous job, as was his LSU predecessor at Michigan State. When Saban coached the Spartans, he always was one notch down from powerhouse Michigan. Oklahoma ruled the Sooner State and Miles at Oklahoma State played second fiddle. By coming to LSU, Miles was able to coach at the biggest and best school in a talent rich state with no other universities within the borders of Louisiana to challenge him. Thus LSU has become one of the most nationally-relevant and consistent teams during the last 12 seasons.