"There have been 9 coaches since Charlie McClendon and if Bo Rein had lived, it’s possible there had only been one." - Jim Engster, President, Tiger Rag Magazine
SEC Storied turns its eyes back to LSU in it's latest release, set to air tonight, on the SEC Network at 8 p.m. CST. The last SEC Storied, "Shaq & Dale," was an excellent dive into the intimate relationship shared by coach and player, beyond the basketball court. This time the sport shifts to football and focus on an oft overlooked figure in LSU history: Bo Rein.
If you aren't familiar with Rein, LSU hired him to take over the program in 1979, after Charlie McClendon retired. Rein was hired away from NC State, but at 34 years old was one of the most respected up and coming young coaches in the country. Think Gus Malzahn pre-Auburn, except only if Gus Malzahn had worked under Urban Meyer and Nick Saban before getting the job and was 13 years younger. Rein earned his stripes first under Woody Hayes and then under Lou Holtz.
At NC State he served first as an assistant before returning to assume the head coaching gig after Holtz opted to try his hand in the NFL. Rein continued the winning tradition Holtz established, carrying them to a Peach Bowl victory in 1977 and an ACC Championship in 1979. Rein then departed for LSU where he served as head coach for mere months, before tragedy struck.
Rein and his pilot, Louis Benscotter, departed from Shreveport heading back to Baton Rouge following a recruiting trip. The mere 40 minute flight turned to disaster when a storm forced Benscotter to re-route. Air traffic control followed the plane for some distance, as it veered completely off course. It ascended higher than certified for a plane of its model. Finally, over the state of North Carolina, U.S. National Guard planes intercepted it, reporting there appeared to be no pilot in the cockpit.
The cause of death is still unknown and Rein and Benscotter's bodies were never discovered. It's likely the cabin depressurized and both passengers lost consciousness. Bo Rein was dead before he ever coached a game at LSU.
As a child, I remember hearing of Bo Rein. My grandparents regarded him with great revere, often stating LSU would never have been into the mess they were in if Rein had not passed. That seems to be the general sentiment from all parties. The film does a great job of communicating just how beloved a figure Rein was. There are interviews with Sam Nader, Herb Vincent, Lou Holtz and one of his proteges, Bill Cowher. All speak of him with deep admiration. Vincent and Nader touch on how quickly Rein had woven himself into the fabric of LSU's community and endeared himself to the people. He was "one of the family." Holtz and Cowher speak highly of his coaching abilities, Cowher himself even crediting him for starting his coaching career. So beloved was Bo, former head coach Woody Hayes delivered his eulogy at his funeral.
It's a short film, only 30 minutes and easy to blow right through. The best moments of the film are certainly seeing his family and peers talk of him with great reverence. One scene depicts his daughter looking over old photo albums and scrap books with her uncle, Bo's brother, as they talk about what a great player and athlete he was. There are reflections of his childhood connection to LSU and the legendary Billy Cannon return. It covers his nascent coaching career and his implementation of the "whirly bird" option, which I must admit, looks like some gussied up trick play. In his day, Rein was considered an offensive genius and an innovator while implementing schemes that are more popularly known as the "spread" in modern football.
If you are highly familiar with the story, you may find the film drags as a simple piece of historical reporting. Then again, there's some great biographical information on Rein that isn't readily known. But if you aren't familiar with it, I highly recommend spending the 30 minutes.
Rein is a looming figure in LSU and college football history, and quite easily the biggest "what could have been?" figure in the school's history.
SEC Storied: The Bo You Don't Know premieres tonight, Tuesday September 15th at 8pm CT. It will replay multiple times throughout the week on SEC Network and ESPNU. ATVS was provided with an advance review copy of the film by ESPN.