The McClendon era is often a useful time capsule. On this site, we’ve gone to great lengths to connect McClendon to Miles as spiritual successors both in ideology and in how their tenures ended. Realistically, it’s a bit of a disservice to Miles to compare his accomplishments to McClendon. For as much as modern day fans want to talk about Miles inheriting a goldmine, it could easily be said the same of McClendon, who took over just four seasons after LSU won their first ever title and were squarely among the nation’s elite. LSU’s roster was absolutely loaded with talent in ‘59, when they were favorites to repeat entering the season, ushered in one of the youngest rosters in America and still won five games and tied Ole Miss in ‘60, and only lost one game in ‘61, where they started to look like National Title contenders again.
McClendon got the gig thanks in part to being courted by his alma mater, Kentucky, in the days just after Dietzel left to take the Army job. McClendon was long overdue a head coaching position at this point in his career and he noted that he was waiting on a “big job in the South” after nearly nabbing the Navy gig a few years prior. McClendon wasn’t going to leave for any opportunity, but the fortuitous opening of his alma mater just as the LSU job came open gave him exceptional leverage. Kentucky offered him the job and McClendon could well have accepted on the spot. It’s strange to think how that could have altered the long arc of college football history. Instead, he phoned Jim Corbett, LSU’s Athletic Director who would be the sole member of LSU’s search committee. Corbett instructed McClendon to come home and after the two had a “frank, free-wheeling conversation”, Charley took the job, making $18,000 a year on his new four-year deal.
McClendon was a simple, Southern man. The type of man it’s hard to picture ascending to the top of a major college football program in a modern era where media training is requisite. But LSU were phenomenal on defense under his watch, and in an era where national coaching searches weren’t really a thing, the hire made a ton of sense.
By ‘64, McClendon had experienced success but was already battling a fanbase that felt he underachieved. Now a decade later, McClendon clearly found his footing, though he could never really shake the perception that the program could be better and do more. LSU won the conference in 1970 and from ‘69-’73, won nine games every season. It’s a staggering bit of consistency. His best team, in 1969 didn’t even get to play for a bowl due to some bad politicking with a bit of a screw-you from Notre Dame. By 1974, success had grown familiar in Baton Rouge, even if LSU couldn’t reach the highest of highs under Cholly Mac. So what else do you do when find a strong run of success? You alter the formula, of course.
The Greatest Game of 1974: Colorado
LSU’s strong 1973 campaign came crashing down with three consecutive losses where the offense managed to score just 16 total points. Despite all the nine win seasons, McClendon started to second guess his I-formation offensive philosophy and opted to shift to the Veer for the ‘74 season. After all, LSU had Brad Davis and Terry Robiskie, so they may as well build around their strengths.
What was the biggest question in 1974? I’ll give you one guess.
Who would play quarterback? Gone was Bert Jones. Mike Miley “Miracle Mike” was tailor made to run the new Veer offense. Sadly, Miracle Mike was taken in the top 10 of the of the MLB draft and signed a professional baseball contract, leaving McClendon to choose between senior Billy Broussard and sophomore Carl Trimble.
The Colorado team LSU welcomed to Tiger Stadium in 1974 were a shell of the program that upset them in 1971. Even in ‘73 the Buffaloes entered Tiger Stadium ranked 10th nationally, before their season fell apart, ending the tenure of long time head coach Eddie Crowder. 1974 began the Bill Mallory era in Boulder. Mallory is a coach’s coach, playing under Ara Parseghian, and working for Woody Hayes. He’s one of only a handful of coaches to ever take three different programs to top 20 finishes. He’s the most successful coach in Indiana football history, which, yeah, isn’t saying much, but could have been worse. Oh yeah, if that name sounds familiar, it should. He’s the father of one half of LSU’s famed LSU defensive coordinator duo, Malleveto, DB coach Doug Mallory.
The game would be a rout. LSU won 42-14, scoring 35 consecutive points across the 2nd and 3rd quarters. That new veer offense looked shiny and brilliant, rumbling out 437 rushing yards, including 14 rushes of 10+ yards. LSU attempted only three passes, completing none. LSU spread the wealth on the ground, with five players rushing for at least 40 yards:
Broussard - 41 yards
Davis - 78 yards
Robiskie - 64 yards
Zeringue - 66 yards
Trimble - 133 yards
They also lost a pair of fumbles, but that seemed immaterial in such a blow out loss.
Turns out, that wouldn’t be the case. This would essentially be the last good moment of the 1974 season. It was entirely a mirage. Ok, LSU did manage to beat Tennessee, for only the 2nd time in school history, and they romped an Ole Miss program transitioning away from the Vaught era. But it took a narrow win over Tulane and beating Utah to finish the season to even manage five wins. It was McClendon’s worst season since 1966 and, upon reflection, probably the worst of his entire LSU tenure.
The next year, LSU would chuck the veer offense. Why? Despite the increased ground production, LSU managed to lose 29 of 49 fumbles. 29 of 49. Just to give you some perspective, LSU fumbled the ball 54 total times from 2014-2017. 49 is an unreal number for a single season and LSU lost more than half of those. Going back to the I-Formation suited McClendon but it also suited a freshman RB from Galveston, TX named Charles Alexander.
20 - 10 W vs. Tennessee
24 - 0 W vs. Ole Miss
6 - 7 L vs. Mississippi State
Tennessee had a quality team in ‘74 and LSU beating them is historically relevant. Ole Miss stunk, but crushing your rival is always fun. LSU lost the State game, but they played valiantly against a much better team that won nine games in ‘74. Still it’s hard to pick a loss any season, much less in a season as poor as 1974. This was the beginning of the end of the McClendon era.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1974?
This poll is closed
The mirage romp of Colorado
Beating Tennessee for the 2nd time in history
Crushing Ole Miss
A hard fought loss to State