Hobbs: Emmert's words come back to haunt him

By By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Gee, and it sounded pretty good at the time.

But now, a dozen and a half years

later, the words are coming back to haunt the man seemingly intent on

assigning football

its proper place in the collegiate food chain, i.e., no more

important in the overall campus scheme than English lit or computer

science or even an anthropology or modern art class.

As you may have heard, NCAA President Mark Emmert struck a blow for reform this week when he nuked Penn State, basically giving

everyone a gory example of what can happen when a football program gets too big for its britches.

I thought he went too far, but his actions have been widely heralded as an act of sanity to thwart the epidemic of football

tails wagging the university dogs.

So it was interesting Tuesday night when Emmert appeared on a segment of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”

Host Bob Ley dug up a 1999 clip from Emmert’s previous life as chancellor at LSU.

In it, Emmert, who had just announced that LSU coach Gerry DiNardo had been fired and that no stone would be left unturned

to find a suitable replacement, had this to say:

“Simply put, success in LSU football is essential for the success of Louisiana State University.”

When confronted by Ley as to how that

quote squares with his born-again devotion to putting and keeping

football in its proper

place, Emmert replied, “It depends on how you define success. When

Nick Saban came in (to replace DiNardo) we had the lowest

graduation rate in the SEC. By the time he left it was one of the

highest graduation rates in the SEC.”

Well, whatever.

The quote caused a bit of a stir, even back then — not because it was any sort of new revelation but because somebody at the

top of academia had actually admitted it.

I took it to mean: If the Tigers don’t start winning some dadgum football games, this being Louisiana, they might as well shut down the whole

place, flagship and all.

But let me see if I’ve got this straight. DiNardo was fired because he didn’t graduate enough players? And Saban was hired

because of his academic skills?

I remember that late-November news conference well. And I took a nostalgic trip back through the dusty archives to re-read

what I wrote at the time.

Football graduation rates were never mentioned, I don’t believe, although two consecutive losing football seasons came up


Emmert had only been at LSU since the previous spring and was still fairly anonymous on campus.

That day, however, made him a star that has never stopped rising en route to his current post as czar of college sports.

After the formality of dispatching DiNardo, the overwhelming memory of that day was how Emmert took charge. In the past, LSU

chancellors at these affairs had stood mostly in the background, there to lend support but appearing to not really want to

get their hands dirty with such a ruffian matter.

Emmert? He subtly brushed aside then-Athletic Director Joe Dean, acknowledged how important football was to the campus and

then made it clear that he, Emmert, would be in charge of finding some coach worthy of turning it around.

And, to give him credit, he made good on it.

Finding and hiring Saban was a slam dunk. It began the golden age of LSU football that continues to this day under Les Miles.

There are those who will tell you it was the best hire in the history of the school.

But it was all about graduation rates?

That surely must have been important because Emmert wasn’t bashful in landing his man.

Saban was well respected in football circles even then, but he wasn’t yet a coaching rock star after four fairly successful

seasons at Michigan State.

It doesn’t sound like that much these days, but in 1999 when Emmert made Saban the six-million-dollar man — five years at

$1.25 million per — it sent out groundbreaking shock waves.

Never mind that it turned out to be a bargain for LSU.

At the time only Steve Spurrier at Florida and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden could command that kind of cash, but LSU’s hire

jump-started the coaching ATM.

Saban was a success however you want to define it.

But, according to DiNardo, Emmert’s definition doesn’t square with history.

DiNardo took to social media Tuesday after the ESPN broadcast to defend his academic record at LSU.

“What he said about academics was flat out inaccurate,” DiNardo tweeted.

In later dispatches DiNardo said that

in 2001, when his first recruiting class came to bloom, LSU got a

College Football Association

award for its 70 percent graduation rate, which he said was the

highest in program history.

“What I’m saying is that I raised the football graduation at LSU to the highest in their history at that point,” DiNardo wrote.

“I’m proud of it.”

LSU didn’t get the graduation award again, DiNardo said, until 2010.

Of course, the on-field winning percentage pretty much went through the roof.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com