Jerry Stovall never should have been in this position.
It’s hard to talk about 1983 without talking about the Bo Rein tragedy which lead to the hiring of Jerry Stovall. We’ll save those details for the 1980 article, but the cliff notes version is that after Rein’s tragic death, LSU turned to a familiar name in Stovall, a man who had no head coaching experience when hired. Stovall had coached under Cholly Mac and of course was an All-American and Heisman runner-up during his playing career at LSU. Well respected and deeply devout, Stovall represented his alma mater with dignity.
Coaching LSU was a dream for Stovall, but by 1983 his dream was about to unfold. After winning 7 games in his opening season, Stovall lost 7 in season 2. He rebounded in 1982; LSU won 8 games and even made a trip to the Orange Bowl. Stovall was named National and SEC Coach of the Year for the team’s effort.
‘82 gave hope that Stovall was heading in the right direction. LSU began the season ranked 12th nationally. LSU returned star RB Dalton Hilliard and WR Eric Martin. LSU needed to replace QB Alan Risher, but highly recruited Jeff Wickersham was Risher’s backup and looked poised to be a star.
The Greatest Game in 1983: Washington
‘83 started with a bang, when LSU invited no. 7 Florida State, who had a 1st place vote in the preseason AP poll. Two squared off the year before and LSU routed Florida State to stamp their ticket to the Orange Bowl. But in ‘83 LSU was a young squad. After taking an early lead, LSU eventually cratered as FSU shot out to a big 2nd half lead. LSU clawed back, and scored with seconds to go to make the game appear closer than it actually was. LSU would fall only a single spot in the AP poll for week 1, while FSU tumbled back 5 spots. LSU would get a reprieve the following week, against Rice, before jumping right back into the fray in week 3.
LSU welcomed the Washington Huskies to Baton Rouge just a week after they pulled a stunning upset over no. 8 Michigan. The Huskies, lead by legend and Nick Saban mentor, Don James, now sat at no. 9 nationally and sported one of the nation’s premier passing offenses.
LSU looked outmatched against FSU, and while they easily dispatched of Rice, a team that would win only one game, questions loomed about LSU’s overall quality. Voters dropped LSU from the polls entirely after their Rice victory, clearly skeptical of their quality themselves.
All of that doubt would be momentarily erased near immediately, as LSU opened a 17-7 first quarter lead and never looked back. Young Jeff Wickersham played the best game of his career, scoring 4 total TDs while passing 16-27 for 259 yards without an INT. Eric Martin caught 7 passes for 137 yards and a TD. Dalton Hilliard rushed for 125 yards and scored a TD himself. And RB Garry James got in on the fun, tacking on another 100 yards rushing himself.
There was no drama. Washington scored in the first quarter and wouldn’t score again until the 4th quarter. Unamused, LSU responded by tacking on another score to pile on. Washington’s previously explosive offense was limited to just 340 total yards, and just 64 on the ground, on 25 carries. The LSU defense really stood proudly that day. Shawn Burks and Rydell Malancon each chipped in 6 tackles, and a young unknown by the name of Michael Brooks even chipped in a tackle himself.
LSU’s offense, conversely, found itself, racking up 477 total yards, hitting over 200 yards in rushing and passing, while scoring 40 points. So what made it a great game? Domination. LSU welcomed a quality opponent into Death Valley, just a week after suffering an opening weekend loss and absolutely turned them inside out. It would be the last great moment of 1983, as LSU would win only 2 more games the rest of the way, leading to Jerry Stovall’s firing.
Stovall’s record sat at a near even 22-21-2 after his final game as head coach, but interests were divided about his future. Some fans fashioned “Get Stovall a U-Haul” slogans, after the infamous “Help Mac Pack.” Others pushed for LSU to fire A.D. Bob Brodhead, even heckling him at an LSU basketball game. Brodhead felt so threatened, he requested a police escort to leave the game when seeing those same fans near the exit.
Stovall had local support, being a Louisiana man and LSU football legend. Brodhead was an outsider from Duke (does this sound at all familiar?). After Stovall’s strong 1982 season, he demanded a richer contract, threatening to resign if his demands were not met. Publicly, the two men claimed to have a strong relationship, but reading between the lines a real war waged.
Stovall, seeking allies, turned to Governor Edwin Edwards, hoping to sway board members into his favor before Friday’s meeting. However, Edwards didn’t back Stovall, instead offering to raise money to help pay for the new coach. LSU was set financially, but Edwards backing was enough to fully seal the deal.
Brodhead noted, “‘Jerry Stovall’s greatest importance is he’s from LSU. ’Jerry Stovall is a P.R. man’s dreams. But sadly, you don’t evaluate a P.R. man’s dreams.’’ LSU fired Stovall at that Friday’s board meeting.
In a 4-win season, it’s hard to pick highlights. LSU’s closest games were all losses in 1983. The FSU game wasn’t nearly as close as the margin would indicate. Ole Miss never lead by more than 10, but also kept LSU at a comfortable arm’s distance in victory. Much like FSU, Alabama controlled the bulk of the game before LSU put up some vanity points. Tulane won only 2 games in 1983 and wound up vacating them both. Beating Greenie is fun, but that’s low even for them.
What’s the Greatest Game in 1983?
This poll is closed
L to FSU
L to Ole Miss
L to Alabama