MULE': Can't Anyone Keep Their Job Here?

Skip Bertman (MDeville)

This is the irony of it all: Skip Bertman is ending his LSU career searching for a basketball coach.

He's doing it while the school is looking for a new chancellor.

He's doing it while a committee is trying to find a new Tiger athletic director.

Can't anybody keep a job around here?

This wasn't the way it looked in the summer of 2001.

Skip Bertman thought this would be the gig to end all gigs. When asked to describe his new assignment at LSU, Bertman quipped, "Assistant Athletic Director in Charge of Nothing.''

Bertman had ended his gilded college baseball coaching career, complete with five national championships, and was looking forward to a leisurely life of mostly doing whatever he wanted, interspersed with motivational speaking engagements to keep him in spending change.

Then the dark undercurrents of Louisiana politics caught Bertman and washed him up on the beach of the LSU athletic directorship. Then-chancellor Mark Emmert and half the LSU Board of Supervisors were locked in a squabble on the replacement for outgoing AD Joe Dean. Emmert wanted someone from outside the Tiger family; some board members wanted someone familiar with LSU, most notably former Tiger All-American and current East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Doug Moreau, for years the color analyst of LSU football games.

In a display of his own political acumen, Emmert pulled an end run on the board: The chancellor went to the one figure nobody could say no to. Emmert appealed to Bertman's loyalty to the school and asked him to stand for nomination. Bertman was recommended and unanimously approved.

The three-year contract, which would keep Bertman on the job until age 65, must have seemed like a purple-and-gold parachute, considering there was no heavy lifting involved – at least on the surface. "I'm getting more excited about it," Bertman said at the time of his sudden shift in plans. "The other stuff I can put off until later."

Bertman inherited no high-profile decisions, since:

• LSU athletics were financially sound thanks to Dean, whose fiscal policies had replenished the Tigers coffers after the Bob Brodhead regime drained their resources;

• Football operations were not a major concern since Nick Saban had just completed his first season in a bowl game and was on the verge of an SEC championship in his second season;

• Basketball coach John Brady had the security of a five-year contract;

• The women's basketball team, under Sue Gunter, had just finished a Top 25 season;

• The softball team had just reached its first Women's College World Series;

• The men's track team finished fifth and the women sixth in the NCAA Championships;

• The men's tennis team reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament;

• The women's golf team finished 12th nationally; and

• Bertman had just replaced himself at the helm of the baseball team, which ended his last season one game short of a 12th trip to the College World Series, with hand-picked successor Smoke Laval.

Oops.

All right, but at the time anyone would have to concur that practically everything sports at LSU had a golden glow.

Now, almost eight years after Bertman propped his feet atop the AD's desk and locked his hands behind his head, his tenure is an example of how things can – and do – change.

Bertman eventually had to:

• Beat the bushes for a new football coach, and at an inopportune time when Saban bugged out on Christmas, long after most jobs had been vacated and filled. But his choice, Les Miles, seems to have worked out;

• Decide on a replacement for women's basketball coach Sue Gunter when she became gravely ill. His pick, longtime assistant Pokey Chatman, had tremendous success. However, when Chatman was said to be involved in a sexual situation with a player/or players, he had to immediately turn to assistant Bob Starkey to finish the season, then hired high-profile coach Van Chancellor;

• Find someone to step into the coaching cleats of ultra-successful track and field coach Pat Henry, who had 27 national titles to his credit. Henry's longtime assistant Dennis Shaver took over and has kept the Tigers among the elite with two national runners-up;

• Fire Smoke Laval, whose record was OK (210-109-1) and included two trips to the College World Series. But Laval had no No. 1 titles in five years, had failed to make the regionals in 2006, and had alienated the fans. In probably Bertman's hardest decision, Laval was replaced by Paul Mainieri a year ago;

• Fire Brady, who got a new contract after the Tigers made the Final Four two years ago, after two straight sub-par seasons.

Things are almost never what they seem.

The end may be near, but for Bertman an unexpected beat goes on. And on.

---

Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net

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