Mulkey’s turn to make hoops relevant
No matter how much she loves her crawfish and Ponchatoula strawberries, it’s still mind-boggling that Kim Mulkey is LSU’s women’s basketball coach.
Maybe it finally caught up with Baylor that apparently Waco, Texas, didn’t appreciate her Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes either.
Makes for a good story. In fact, that was her story and she was sticking to it in LSU’s first in-person, non-Zoomed pep rally masquerading as a news conference in over a year.
It was all about “coming home.”
Coming “home” to LSU, a school she never attended or played for, never coached at and had no real formal ties to other than as a mom in the stands watching her son Kramer Robertson star on the Tigers’ baseball team a few years ago.
But OK. Run with it.
Makes as much sense as anything else.
She private-jetted in from Waco for most of those baseball games, a lifestyle her phenomenal success at Baylor afforded her.
So it certainly wasn’t about money.
It turns out LSU got her for $2.8 million per year, only a slight bump from the $2.27 million she was making at Baylor, maybe enough to cover moving expenses.
One thing about LSU: pandemic or no pandemic, if the athletic department decides it needs to spend some throw around some cash, the money always seems to pop up from somewhere.
The school got its money’s worth in the introductory coronation, which Mulkey began by defiantly — somewhat flippantly and bit theatrically — ripping off her coronavirus mask because “I’ve got a lot to say.”
She is “sassy” like that, a bit of, in the Louisiana woman vernacular, a “live wire.” She’s every bit the Louisiana country girl from central casting that Ed Orgeron is the pure-bred Cajun, and she owned the room in her first official appearance in the Maravich Assembly Center.
And maybe it was no coincidence that Gov. John Bel Edwards, who attended the Mulkey gala on Monday, a day later lifted the state-side mask mandate for many private businesses.
Kim Mulkey walks in and — what? — the pandemic is over?
Not that simple of course.
But LSU looked a little brighter, too.
Perhaps anything she does to make women’s basketball as relevant at LSU as she did at Baylor will be a bonus, let alone something capable of winning three national championships.
It’s always been a tough sell at LSU, where gymnastics takes center stage in women’s sports.
Even when LSU went to five consecutive Final Fours (2004-2008), scant attention was paid to it until it was always bowing out in the semifinals.
Mulkey is taking over a program that, in its last season not affected by the pandemic, drained $4 million out of the athletic department coffers.
It’s not as simple as winning.
But if anything can change that, it’s Mulkey’s sheer will and personality alone — the D-D Breaux formula that made gymnastics a tough ticket in Baton Rouge.
Yet even that potential seemed secondary this week.
Mulkey might have been worth her first year’s salary just in brightening up LSU’s mind-set.
There were smiles and back-patting all around Monday. Something to celebrate.
Gone, at least for a day, were the serious frowns and furrowed brows. School officials looked eager to take questions, rather that dreading what they might be asked to explain next on the accusations of sexual misconduct and how the school handled them.
Nobody had to be subpoenaed to jump on the Mulkey bandwagon.
The biggest winner?
Easy. Athletic Director Scott Woodward.
He delivered the goods. It was probably a little more complicated than, as Mulkey was claiming, a “10-minute phone call.”
But for Woodward, who really did come home to LSU after a career journey that took him out of state, it’s not unusual to make splashy hires.
He was the athletic director at Washington which finally hired Chris Peterson away from Boise State football. At his next stop at Texas A&M, he won the Jimbo Fisher sweepstakes to coach Aggies football.
No matter the lure of home, landing Mulkey, whose legacy was secure at Baylor, is just as impressive.
There’s no telling where the LSU football investigation ends. There’s also the long-running NCAA investigation into men’s basketball.
Orgeron seems relatively safe as football coach, basketball head coach Will Wade maybe a little dicier.
But if those high-profile jobs ever require a search committee, LSU has to feel like they’ll have the right guy in charge.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU
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