Paul Dietzel is the most underrated coach in LSU history. At first blush, that may seem incredulous, but his accomplishments are now largely swept aside for those of Saban and Miles, and even often forgotten next to those of his protege, Charley McClendon. When people reflect on the 1958 National Championship team, they first think of Billy Cannon and then the Chinese Bandits. Yet, it was Dietzel who brought the innovation of the Bandits.
It was also Dietzel who resurrected a hemorrhaging LSU football program. LSU legend Gaynell Tinsley spent seven unsuccessful years as LSU’s head man. His tenure demands more space than this column has room to spare, but consider that Tinsley was at constant war with LSU’s administrators, notably over a library versus stadium debate, which he ultimately lost. Game attendance declined precipitously under his watch and LSU was just 35-34-6 in his run. To give you an idea of the petulance, guys like Mike Archer, Gerry Dinardo and Jerry Stovall... all won at a better rate than Tinsley. Tinsley inherited a very successful program from Bernie Moore and proceeded to careen it right into the ditch.
That’s the state of affairs when Paul Dietzel got the call in 1955. Administrators wanted a proven winner, and landed upon Dietzel, who had no head coaching experience at the time. LSU stumbled into Dietzel, who was screwed out of the Kentucky job and wound up in Baton Rouge at the recommendation of McClendon, who worked with him under Bear Bryant at Kentucky. Dietzel impressed administrators and got the job, knowing full well a steep rebuild was on the horizon. Dietzel made waves early on with tough as nails discipline, as nearly 30 players left the team before his first season. LSU won only 11 games in his first three seasons, as he slowly built the roster to his liking. In 1958 he delivered upon the building and in 1959 he won 9 games with the team many pegged as the favorites to repeat for the National Championship.
And just like that, Dietzel was back at square one, rebuilding his roster after the departures of superstars like Cannon, Warren Rabb and Johnny Robinson. LSU was starting over in 1960, losing 20 letterman from the ‘58 and ‘59 squads. LSU’s roster in 1960 featured 18 sophomores in their 33-man rotation. Would LSU’s youth be exposed?
The Greatest Game of 1960: Ole Miss
Would LSU be exposed? Kind of. The offense languished without Rabb and Cannon, even with freshman sensation Jerry Stovall in the mix.
LSU beat Texas A&M in the season opener, because time is a flat circle.
And then proceeded to lose their next 4 games by a combined total of 14 points. Yes, combined. The largest margin of defeat in that span was a mere 4 points and only Florida hit double digit points (13) against the Tigers. Florida won 9 games in 1960. For a moment, stop and appreciate that LSU replaced almost the entirety of their offensive production and fielded an exceptionally young squad and still managed to finish above .500 in 1960. Yes, a 1-4 start won’t shower any coach in praise, but considering the exceptionally narrow margins, it’s hard to do anything but celebrate what was a magnificent coaching job.
But nothing in 1960 would top what happened in Oxford, fresh off a 4-game losing streak. The beleaguered Tigers traveled to face the No. 2 team in the nation, their hated rivals in Mississippi. The 1960 Rebels were perhaps the finest team ever fielded in the Johnny Vaught era. Yes, the greatest coach in their school’s history invited a rebuilding, underdog LSU squad to Oxford. Many pegged the Rebels to be three-touchdown favorites. LSU had other ideas.
By halftime the game was knotted up 0-0 and Rebel fans knew they were in for a long night. LSU’s defense, captained by Bo Strange, came to play. The low-scoring battle continued, and Ole Miss notched a field goal for a third quarter lead. Then, LSU’s youth struck. The all-sophomore Go Team, lead by quarterback Lynn Amedee drove 48 yards, capping the drive with six, giving the ball to Ray Wilkins for the score. Naturally, the kicker missed the extra point, giving LSU a 6-3 lead.
The Rebels took the ball back with one last gasp, starting from their own 21. Quarterback Jake Gibbs traversed the field in 1:25 seconds, getting to the LSU 25 with 38 seconds remaining. Vaught called timeout and sent in his kicker to assure the tie. It was a stunning decision, that left Dietzel to declare, “If someone had told me before the game it was going to wind up in a tie, I would have been elated. Now it almost feels like we lost.”
It’s hard to get excited by a tie, but this game was a monumental effort by a young team. After losing 4 in a row, this team could have caved and given in. But instead, they traveled to face their biggest rival and the best team in the country and played them to a complete standoff. Ole Miss would not lose another game in 1960 and would eventually claim their school’s only recognized National Championship. LSU wouldn’t lose again either.
The game also marked another couple moments historical moment of significance. It would be the third regular season game in a row that Ole Miss failed to score a TD against LSU. Additionally, it would be the last time LSU played in Oxford until 1989.
35 - 6 vs. South Carolina
9 - 0 vs. Texas A&M
10 - 13 vs. Florida
LSU’s rout of South Carolina is probably their most dominant performance, but 1960 is largely a year where LSU beat bad teams, lost to good ones and gave one hell of an effort against Ole Miss. This is an easy choice.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1960?
This poll is closed
Tie vs. Ole Miss
Close loss to Florida
Whipping South Carolina