PARTSCH: The harsh reality for LSU sports fans
Managing Editor Raymond Partsch III
It is time for a reality check for those who bleed purple and gold.
With another massive letdown this athletic year by one of LSU’s major athletic programs, the time is now for die-hard Tiger fans to come to terms with the hard truth about their school. That mighty LSU is best at the game that takes place on the diamond, and not the ones that take place on gridiron and hardwood.
I know all about LSU’s history of featuring exceptional talent inside the deafening noise of Tiger Stadium with legendary players such as Billy Cannon, Kevin Faulk, Burt Jones, Tommy Casanova, Kevin Mawae, Glenn Dorsey and so on suiting up to play football.
The men’s basketball team has featured several icons over the years as well: Chris Jackson, Stanley Roberts, Bob Pettit, Shaquille O’Neal and of course Pete Maravich.
Yet despite all that legendary talent, the fact remains that LSU has never consistently been an elite football or men’s basketball program, unlike the boys who call Alex Box Stadium home.
Despite having one of the best players in the country -- and projected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick -- Ben Simmons, LSU somehow found a way to miss the NCAA Tournament. Simmons was a double-double machine as he averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds, shooting 56 percent from the field (highest on team) while also playing the most minutes. He earned Freshman of the Year honors from both USA Today and the Southeastern Conference.
LSU, though, never gelled this past season as the team, also featuring others stars in Tim Quarterman and Antonio Blakeney, was inconsistent -- and at times lifeless -- on its way to a 19-14 overall record. The end mercifully came in last Saturday’s embarrassing 71-38 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
That eliminated LSU from consideration from the big dance, and head coach Johnny Jones announced on Sunday that his team would not be participating in any postseason tournament, such as the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), which LSU played in two seasons ago.
It would have been great if Simmons could have led LSU to a Final Four 10 years after Glenn Davis and Tyrus Thomas did, and 30 years since the Cinderella No. 11 seed team did so but it didn’t happen.
Tiger fans have seen this all before.
Beloved coach Dale Brown had a plethora of talent during his tenure with the Tigers. Despite having some combination of Jackson, Roberts and O’Neal from 1989-92, LSU failed to make it the Sweet 16.
During that same span, the baseball team went to the College World Series three times, including winning its first title in 1991.
In its history, LSU men’s basketball has been to four Final Fours, and is 0-6 all-time in them. The other two games came when there was a third-place game at the tournament and they lost those as well.
So why did this year’s LSU team flounder?
Poor coaching by Jones? Without a doubt. A lack of urgency by the team? Absolutely. But there might also be another, bigger factor: That despite the huge statue of Shaq on campus and the PMAC, named after Maravich, LSU is simply not a basketball school.
Now, to the other part of LSU’s failed “Geaux 25/7” campaign, which was based on the extra effort put forth by Simmons (who wore 25) and Leonard Fournette (who wears 7).
LSU football is held in high regard as the Tigers have averaged 10 wins per season over the past 16 years, won two national titles and played for another.
The big gripe among Tiger fans is that the team has underachieved in the past handful of seasons under longtime coach Les Miles. This past year serves as the best case for that argument as LSU started off the year 7-0 while running back Leonard Fournette graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and became the Heisman front-runner.
Then November happened.
Beginning with its fifth straight loss to rival and eventual national champion Alabama, LSU would go on and play its way out of the College Football Playoff by losing to both Arkansas and Ole Miss, and Fournette didn’t even get invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
Miles was on the hot seat but kept his job after public opinion changed on the grass-eating coach, especially after word came out that LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva tried to persuade Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher to come to LSU.
Miles kept his job and the Tigers ended the season by routing a five-loss Texas Tech team in a lower-tier bowl game.
That said, LSU football winning nine games this past season means that it met expectations. Expectations for a very good but not great program.
The Tigers have won three national titles, with two of those coming in the past dozen years. Before Miles, and before him the hated Nick Saban, turned LSU into one of the most consistent programs in the country, the Tigers were a dumpster fire.
In the 20 years before Saban was hired, LSU went through five coaches who won barely half of their games (54 percent) and went 4-5 in bowl games.
The great Charlie McClendon coached LSU football for 18 years before that period, winning 68 percent of his games, guiding his team to 13 bowl games, including winning the Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl twice, and that was in a era where there was only a dozen or so bowl games.
Yet, McClendon was run off because he couldn’t win national titles and he couldn’t beat Paul Bryant at Alabama. That seems eerily similar to the same logic involved with those who want LSU to fire Miles.
The problem is that LSU football is a second-tier program and always has been. Many Tiger fans seem to believe that the football program in legacy terms is on the same level as Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Southern Cal or Oklahoma.
The reality is that it isn’t. It is on that next tier of very good programs that have had moments of great success over the years. That is not a knock on LSU football but the reality is that not everyone is crowned a champion.
LSU is a very good football program, a good basketball program but it is a phenomenal baseball program.
The Tigers have made the College World Series 17 times, and have won it six times, which is tied for second all-time. From the legendary Skip Bertman to Paul Mainieri, LSU has been the epitome of baseball dominance.
Yes, there have been missteps, such as the loss to Houston in the 2014 Regional, or the 2012 Super Regional loss to Stony Brook, but LSU is a consistently great baseball program.
Look, Alabama has been one of the most dominant football programs in history with 16 claimed national titles, but that dominance doesn’t carry over to other sports. The men’s basketball team has reached the Elite 8 once and the baseball team has reached the College World Series five times with no titles.
At Alabama, football is the sport in which the Tide is dominant in.
The University of North Carolina has won five titles and four runner-ups in men’s basketball and has the most Final Fours (18) than anyone else in history. In baseball meanwhile, the team has made 10 trips to the CWS, finishing as runner-up twice.
Like Alabama, UNC is dominant in one sport and just good in others.
Not everyone can have equal success in two different sports. The exceptions being the University of Miami, who has won four baseball titles, to go with five national titles in football, and USC who has double digit national titles in both baseball and football.
The reality is that LSU is a baseball powerhouse and has been for three decades. For all those Tiger fans who are desperate to see a championship team wearing the purple and gold, just go grab yourself a seat at “The Box” because that’s where the champions have always and will play at LSU.