ENGSTER: LSU J-School a who's who

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden is an LSU grad

Recently I attended the annual Manship School for Mass Communications Hall of Fame ceremony. One inductee was the late Bill Lynch, the crusty journalist who tormented Edwin Edwards for a couple of decades. The LSU press release referred to him as "vicious, fair." I doubt that Lynch would object to the description.

The others who were welcomed to the J-School list of luminaries were Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, who was a reporter for a few years before he became a political powerhouse, and New York Times reporter Jere Longman, who credits fellow Hall of Famer Jim Featherston as his mentor.

 

The Hall of Fame is big enough that Holden and Featherston are rubbing shoulders in the shrine. Before he died in 2000, Featherston, a Pulitzer Prize winning professor at LSU, was sued by a student named Melvin Holden.  The 30-year-old case is vivid to many this day with respected journalism practitioners like Errol Savoie and Mike Dunne on opposite sides.

 

Kudos go to Dean Jack Hamilton for ushering both of these talented and tenacious men into the LSU Hall. The biography of Melvin "Kip" Holden is inspiring to any underprivileged youth trying to find his way, and James Shoaf Featherston was my favorite curmudgeon and journalist when he died on Oct. 19, 2000.

 

My last conversation with Featherston came a few hours before his death. I told him he needed to go to the hospital. "I am avoiding that at all costs," he said. A few hours later, the end came at his home near the LSU campus.

 

Tiger Rag founder Steve Myers recalls the day that Representative Kip Holden contacted him about forming a similar publication for his beloved Southern University. "We'll call it the Jag Rag," Holden, a Southern Law School graduate proclaimed. The magazine never materialized, but Holden was looking then as now for a way to bridge the gap between blacks and whites in his hometown.

 

Sadly, Featherston and Lynch were enshrined the year after they died. They would have delivered memorable acceptance speeches had the honor come a year earlier. Longman was a worthy inductee, but Peter Finney and John Ferguson deserve Hall of Fame distinction, as well.

 

Finney is a graduate of LSU and has been the most recognized sportswriter in the state for years. "He's the best writer at the paper," my former Reveille colleague Alex Martin told me in 1987 when Martin was employed by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Martin, another Featherston protégé, won a Pulitzer for his work at Newsday a few years ago.

 

Ferguson is the voice synonymous with LSU sports from the 1940s to the 1980s. He continues to work with the Tiger Athletic Foundation and imparts wisdom to those of us who toil in the radio vineyards. Ferguson's deep baritone mellowed like fine wine through the years, and his call of Bert Jones' last-second pass to Brad Davis to beat Ole Miss in 1972 remains my fondest Tiger moment.

 

Ferguson was on the air on Dec. 7, 1941. A few years ago, he broke his arm in a rain storm and still showed up for a scheduled interview with me. After the radio chat, Ferguson, LSU Linguistics Professor Hugh Woodstock Buckingham and I went to Sullivan's to continue the discussion. Ferguson then went to the hospital, and his arm was placed in a cast.

 

In addition to being the Voice of the Tigers for four decades, Ferguson received frequent national broadcasting assignments and doubled as the Voice of the New Orleans Saints for a few years. He and Joe Dean teamed to become one of the best basketball broadcasting duos on record.

 

Joe Dean turns 75 this week, and looks like he could still hold his own in a street brawl. "I love a good fight," Dean once told a reporter. To those who know him well, Dean is an ambassador for the Ole War Skule and his state. He adopted Louisiana as his home when he arrived at LSU as a freshman in the fall of 1948.

 

Dean has survived the death of his wife, Doris, and surrendered the leadership of the LSU athletic ship in 2001, but he remains active as a consultant and is a deal maker extraordinaire. Dean will be remembered for hiring Nick Saban and for keeping Skip Bertman and Pat Henry, the two most successful coaches in LSU history.

 

The Tigers endured six straight losing seasons on the gridiron from 1989 to 1994. Dean weathered the criticism for hiring Curley Hallman by keeping the budget in the black, and Gerry DiNardo brought the magic back for three seasons.

 

Firing DiNardo was Dean's most gut-wrenching move. Dean was following orders from Chancellor Mark Emmert when DiNardo was pushed out in 1999. Rather than wallow in defeat, he then hit the road and found Saban through an old contact, Sean Tuohy, the former Ole Miss basketball standout from New Orleans.

 

Saban is gone, but his impact will reverberate through the bowels of Death Valley for a generation. If there had been no Joe Dean at the helm, Tiger fans likely would have been deprived of Saban's brilliant ride through TigerTown.

 

As he celebrates three-fourths of a century of life, an appropriate salute to Dean would be for the LSU brass to name the athletic administration building in his honor. It was his idea to bring the Tiger family together, and this edifice is a testament to his foresight.

 

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Jim Engster is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag, plus the general manager of WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge where he serves as the host of the "The Jim Engster Show," a daily talk show in the capital city. Jim can be reached by e-mail at jim@wrkf.org.

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