Paul Dietzel took off for Army after the 1961 season, and he took the majority of the staff with him. On the day the LSU Board of Supervisors granted Dietzel his release, his defensive coordinator was in Lexington, Kentucky interviewing for their now open head coaching job.
LSU appointed Jim Corbett as the entire search committee. He wasted no time finding his man, who at the time was dangerously close to taking another job. Let’s have John Hunter, the LSU President at the time, tell the tale (click for audio):
So we didn’t set up a search committee to find a . . . find a head football coach. One Sunday morning, down when I lived on Brame Drive [in Baton Rouge], shortly after I had become . . . had been inaugurated . . . Well, it was before I was inaugurated. Jim Corbett came down to the house and he said, “John . . .” And now in the meantime, [Paul] Dietzel had gone to West Point. He’d hauled off everybody he could haul off with him except Charlie McClendon and maybe one or two other people. And Jim came to me and he said, “John,” he said, “Let’s make Charlie Mac head football coach.” He said, “I’ve struggled with this.” And I said, “Jim, that’s fine.” So at this point we got on the phone from the kitchen and my bedroom and merely called John Doles [John J. Doles, Sr.], who was chairman of the [LSU] Board [of Supervisors] at that time, and said, “John, we want to make Charlie Mac our football coach. But, we got a problem: Kentucky wants him also. So we don’t want to do anything without the Board’s knowing about this thing.” John said to me, he said, “John, you all go ahead.” He said, “I know whatever you all do, is all right with the Board.” But he said, “I’ll call the Board, too.”
Well, of course we get a hold of Charlie Mac and sure enough Kentucky’s board is meeting that afternoon! Well, I knew Frank Dickey, President of the University of Kentucky. I knew him well, so I called him, and I said, “You call him out of the meeting.” And I said, “Frank, are you all considering Charlie Mac as your new head football coach?” He said, “John, we sure are.” And I said, “Well, we’re going to try to keep him from going. I think we would like to keep him here.” He said, “Well, that’s fine with us,” but I said . . . He said, “But he is . . . will probably be elected up here.”
So we called Charlie Mac, and he came over to the house and we . . . never forget this, back in my bedroom, we were sitting there on the edge of the bed and chair and here is Charlie Mac, who all of the sudden realizes, he is not stupid, he knows he is being considered in Kentucky. And all of a sudden here’s this LSU thing. And it was not easy to convince him to come to LSU. A graduate of University of Kentucky, he felt a real strong desire to go back there. Well, I don’t . . . I’ve forgotten how Jim and I did it, but anyhow Charlie Mac finally said, “Well, all right, I’ll do it.”
LSU had its coach, and a roster so stacked that Dietzel said that no one could screw it up. It was yet another shot which Cholly Mack never truly forgave. Where Dietzel was a slick-talking charmer, McClendon was a plainspoken country boy who was honest almost to a fault.
The 1962 team actually lost seven starters from the White team, but he returned both the White Team (Pat Screen) and Go Team (Lynn Amedee) quarterbacks. Still, the locals were clamoring for big time recruit Pat Screen to take over the job. But Cholly Mack was not hired to rock the boat: he stuck with the senior QB’s, he kept the three platoons, and he relied on the defense first.
Disaster, of course, struck early for McClendon. Rice was a bad team, finishing the year 2-6-2, and they were helmed by a little regarded sophomore named Walter McReynolds. But on 4th and 27, he found Gene Fleming on the flank, and he scrambled 70 yards for a touchdown. Rice missed the extra point, giving LSU a chance to take a lead when it scored a touchdown in the third quarter, but Field bobbled the snap. On the game’s final drive, Cholly Mack would call on his halfback, Danny LeBlanc, to hold on the potential game-winner from the ten.
He dropped the snap, too. LSU tied Rice, fell out of the top ten, and then travelled to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech in a nationally televised game. This time, the snap and hold were true, and Lynn Amadee kicked the go-ahead field goal from 24 out. Georgia Tech responded, but their final gasp failed when Joe Auer dropped the potential game-winner at the LSU 10.
LSU would not leave the top ten for the rest of the year. The defense allowed just 34 points on the season, pitching six shutouts, a school record that likely will never be matched. Even then, LSU was no match for undefeated Ole Miss.
Ole Miss outgained LSU 393-107. Despite being outplayed, LSU held a 7-6 lead at the half before the bottom fell out in the second. Ole Miss moved up and down the field at will, but could only manage three field goals, enough for a 15-7 win. John Vaught finally had his perfect season… and he still didn’t win the national title, as the media leaped at any chance not to give Ole Miss the title given the off-the-field events of 1962.
For its part, LSU accepted a bid to the Cotton Bowl to play #4 Texas. LSU dominated the game and came away 13-0 winners over the previously undefeated Longhorns. LSU finished the season 9-1-1, ranked #7 in the nation. All of the credit went to Dietzel, and McClendon was the moron who didn’t play Pat Screen.
Stovall’s Almost Heisman
McClendon didn’t merely inherit one of the best defenses in the nation, which he at least had a hand in building, he also was blessed with one of the best players in the country, Jerry Stovall. Stovall lost one of the closest Heisman votes in history, 707-618 to Terry Baker of Oregon St.
Stovall claims he was not highly recruited and that he was the last scholarship offered in his class. That may or may not be true, but that didn’t stop Stovall from asking for Billy Cannon’s number. He was instead given #21. No player has worn #20 since Billy Cannon left campus.
Unlike Cannon or Taylor before him, Stovall actually knew his way around a library. He was a quiet and mild mannered person off the field, attended church regularly, and with his glasses on looked more like Clark Kent than Superman. But when he took the field, Stovall became a ferocious animal.
On his very first play in a Tiger uniform, Stovall made a touchdown saving tackle on a Texas A&M player who dared return his own punt. Dietzel remarked that it was the most impressive debut by a sophomore he had ever seen.
Stovall was listed as a running back, but his real impact was on defense and special teams. He was the team’s star defensive back and he broke open the 1961 win over Georgia Tech with a 98 yard kickoff return, which he performed with a cracked rib he had concealed from the coaching staff. Stovall might have been a nice guy off the field, but he was a bad mother on it.
The Pat Screen Era
Pat Screen was a dominant player at Jesuit High and fans were desperate for him to finally play for his home state team. He did redshirt the 1962 season as rumors flew that he would transfer to Notre Dame. This was never more than a rumor, as he was so all-in on LSU that he loudly cheered for LSU as a recruit in 1960… while a guest of Johnny Vaught and Ole Miss.
Jimmy Field left big shoes to fill, going 18-2-1 over the past two seasons as the starter, but now in 1963, it was Screen’s team and his time. It was also now Cholly Mack’s team: of 34 players who saw the field, 16 of them were sophomores. The season started much the same way 1962 did, LSU blasted Texas A&M, dropped an inexplicable game to Rice, and rallied back with an upset win over Georgia Tech.
Bobby Dodd remarked, “Pat Screen is probably the best running QB we’ll see this year. As long as he’s healthy, LSU will be tough.”
You know where this is going, right? While blocking for Danny LeBlanc on a power sweep, Screen separated his shoulder, ending his season. LSU won run its record to 5-1 before reality set in against Ole Miss, losing 37-3 on national TV.
With the star sophomore QB out along with a teamwide rash of injuries which claimed starting halfback Danny LeBlanc, another sophomore filled the gap, Joe Labruzzo. Labruzzo ran a wind-assisted 9.6 100-yard dash, but beyond his speed, he was a tough sumbitch. A mere 5’8” and 160 pounds, Labruzzo battled through a series of injuries to emerge as the team’s best player. An injury ravaged team finished the regular season 7-3, and then dropped the Bluebonnet Bowl to Baylor.
The Tigers finally regained some degree of health in 1964, only Danny LeBlanc did not return to the team due to his injuries. Doug Moreau shifted to flanker so LSU could actually throw the ball some, resulting in LSU’s first 100-yard receiving game since 1950. Moreau caught 101 yards against Texas A&M in the 1964 season opener.
LSU’s season passing output would double from 412 to 945 yards. LSU was rolling early in the year behind its usual stellar defense and a revamped offense. The team stumbled to a tie against Tennessee thanks to Doug Moreau missing three field goals due to fatigue of running receiver routes. The Vols managed a mere 75 yards of offense, but eked out a 3-3 tie.
After two years of convincing losses to Ole Miss, LSU finally got the upper hand. Trailing all game, backup quarterback Billy Ezell found Billy Masters on a deep ball and the score. Doug Moreau caught a tipped Ezell pass in the end zone to convert a two-point try for an 11-10 win in a play that John Ferguson called the most exciting play in Tiger Stadium history.
It was an incredible win, but the key fact there was Billy Ezell throwing the ball. That’s because Pat Screen, playing on an injured knee, got injured yet again. He watched the final play from the sidelines in a wheelchair. He would not take another snap all season.
LSU would finish the year 8-2-1 with losses to Bama and Steve Spurrier-helmed Florida. However, LSU proved its mettle against Syracuse and its running back stars of Floyd Little and Jim Nance, the first African Americans to play in the Sugar Bowl since 1955.
LSU tackled Little in the end zone to force a safety in the first quarter, and Don Schwab had more rushing yards than the two Orangemen stars combined. The game came down to a late field goal attempt by Doug Moreau. He had kicked 13 field goals on the year, an NCAA record, and scored 73 of LSU’s 115 points. He scored LSU’s only touchdown and added the game-winning field goal in the game’s dying minutes.
The End of an Era
Pat Screen had been brought in as a program savior, and now he had been redshirted, and missed the bulk of the next seasons due to injury. He stood 8-1-1 as a starter while backup Billy Ezell was 7-5. How many games could have Screen made the difference in?
More importantly, college football changed its substitution rules in 1964. Out went the Bandits and in came two-platoon football. Teams could now change their entire platoon on a change of possession with no restriction. Outside of the forward pass, this is perhaps the most significant rule change in college football history.
Before 1964, football players had to be able to play both ways. But the new substitution rules allowed for increased specialization, and more importantly, larger players who would not have the endurance to play both ways.
LSU didn’t see the effect on its roster until 1965 thanks to the redshirt rules, but suddenly it boasted linemen on both sides of the ball all over 200 pounds for the first time in the program’s history. McClendon even started a pair of 250-pound tackles, near unthinkable a decade ago in the era of 60-minute men.
Pat Screen’s impressive injury tally now made him the grizzled old veteran trying to hold off the new hotshot recruit, Nelson Stokley. Billy Ezell shifted to defensive back. Joe Labruzzo also found himself in a newly crowded backfield, as Danny LeBlanc returned from injury and McClendon added recruits Jim Dousay and Sammy Grezaffi.
Stokley quickly forced Screen to the bench due to his immense talent. LSU again lost to Steve Spurrier’s Florida, but the team raced out to a 5-1 record and a #5 ranking. Stokley was a genuine dual threat, rushing for 433 yards and passing for 468, pushing him to second all-time in scrimmage yards in a season in just six games. Stokely also completed 64% of his passes, when no LSU quarterback had ever completed even 50% since we had kept track of the number, including YA Tittle.
After two years of injuries kept Screen on the bench, an injury put him back in the starting lineup. Stokley’s knee gave out, and Screen was back in. LSU lost its next two games by a combined 54-7 to Bama and Ole Miss, but then things clicked at the season’s end. LSU would score 99 points in its last two games, keyed by a 62-0 thrashing of Tulane.
LSU could blame its losses to Ole Miss and Bama on injuries, but McClendon refused to do so. “Defeat is never good,” he said. “You don’t play to lose, you play to win.”
LSU went on to humiliate the Greenies so thoroughly that Moreau and Ezell switched places on an extra point attempt, which Ezell missed. So when LSU scored yet another touchdown, LSU went for two in order to score its 62nd point. This would be Tulane’s last game as an SEC team, and the result demonstrated why the Greenies were dropping out of the conference.
Jim Corbett politicked behind the scenes and somehow maneuvered the 7-3 Tigers into the Cotton Bowl against #2 and unbeaten Arkansas, playing for the national title. The Hogs were massive favorites, so much so that the apocryphal story was that a lady in a Dallas hotel yelled, “Look! They bothered to show up!” Joe Labruzzo scored twice to key a 14-7 victory, the second time in four years LSU had ruined an SWC champion’s perfect season in the Cotton Bowl.
Three teams went into New Years Day undefeated, including Arkansas. All three suffered upset losses, allowing Alabama to climb into the top spot and claim the national title. We can’t win for losing.
The Unluckiest Team in the Nation
Before the 1966 season, LSU avoided a tragedy. Jim Corbett was accidentally shot in April. He was found in his car and rushed to the hospital.
According to the police report, Corbett, who had a history of heart problems, left a local night club at 11:25 p.m. and was driving home when he felt chest pains. That’s when he pulled over and approached the window of the Traveler’s Motel at 6813 Jefferson Highway, reportedly seeking assistance.
He didn’t get it.
Inside the room were O.S. Coleman, a Sorrento plant worker, and a female companion. When Coleman saw Corbett in the window, he pulled out his 22-caliber derringer and fired at Corbett’s chest. Corbett fled the scene in his car, crashing it minutes later at the intersection of LaSalle and Audubon, where four teenagers found him. Doctors later said Corbett was 10 minutes from death, but after four blood transfusions and a few days of recovery, he headed home, a little worse for the wear.
The 1966 football season, however, began with some score-settling. Paul Dietzel had left Army in much the same way he left LSU, and was now the head coach at South Carolina. LSU opened its season against the Gamecocks and Cholly Mack made no secret he really, really wanted to win this game. Can you imagine a coach being this honest with the national press today?
Meanwhile, Charley McClendon was battling to suppress anything that might stir up the South Carolina players—something like 68,000 persons booing their coach. “Can’t you see? He’s doing all this drumbeating just to fire up his team,” said McClendon. “Why, I’m surprised he ever thought he would get booed in the first place. People in Tiger Stadium are so concerned with their own football team they don’t really care about the other one.”
And through it all McClendon was working desperately to prepare his young, fast and inexperienced team to play well enough to win the most important game of his coaching career. “You can’t believe how much I want this one,” he said after LSU’s final workout on Wednesday. “I’ve worked under that man’s shadow for four years now and, honestly, it’s beginning to frighten me. It doesn’t seem to matter that we’ve won 75% of the time since I’ve been head coach and that we’ve gone to a bowl every year and won all but one. Regardless of what I do, I’m always compared to what he did or would have done. I keep thinking that maybe if I can just whip his britches this Saturday night it will clear the air around here. I’ve had to strive, oh, so hard to keep from over-coaching and getting my boys all tight. I’ve got my whole staff watching me for signs like that. It’s just that I’ll probably never get a chance like this again. And if I blow it now...”
LSU would blow out South Carolina 28-12. At the game’s end, Captain Mike Pharis underhanded McClendon the game ball and told him, “This is from us, Coach Mac, and it means that we’ve forgotten all about Paul Dietzel.”
That would be the only thing to go right that season. Nelson Stokely suffered a shoulder injury against Rice in the very next game, and would miss the rest of the season. Ironically, his season injuries went the opposite order of Pat Screen’s: knee then shoulder instead of shoulder then knee. LSU would stagger to a 3-4-1 record before LSU rallied with a win over Mississippi St, setting up the biggest LSU-Tulane game in a generation.
82,307 fans showed up to the Sugar Bowl to see 5-3-1 Tulane try to hand LSU their first losing season since 1956. It was not to be, as Sammy Grezaffi ran all through the Tulane defense to key a 21-7 victory. Jim Corbett counted the money all the way to the bank, as LSU earned $160,000 from the game, more than any SEC team made from its bowl game.
Jim Corbett told boosters in the aftermath of the game, “Charley McClendon faced intolerable odds – a man with little to win and much to lose. We have a lot more to look forward to.” Unfortunately, that would not be so for Corbett himself. He died of heart attack on January 29, 1967, possibly related to his wounds from the April shooting incident.
Corbett’s influence could be seen mostly in the attendance figures. In 1954, the last year of TP Heard’s administration, LSU sold no season tickets and had an average attendance of 27,800. By 1966, Corbett’s final year as AD, the Tigers averaged 63,868 fans a game and sold 35,000 season tickets.
TP Heard invented Saturday night football at LSU, but it was Jim Corbett who truly authored Saturday Nights in Tiger Stadium. Heard laid the foundation, but Tiger football as we know it is the House That Corbett Built.
In his honor, there are actually TWO Corbett Awards. One is awarded to the top amateur athlete in Louisiana. Devin White and Sarah Finnegan are the reigning honorees. The other is awarded by NACDA and is the highest honor in college sports administration. The first winner, in 1967, was SEC commissioner and former LSU coach Bernie Moore.
In Corbett’s honor the 1967 team played one of the most hard luck seasons in college football history. It was like a pall had fallen over the program. LSU went 6-3-1 in the regular season with those three losses coming by a combined six points. Essentially, LSU was 10 points away from going unbeaten and untied.
McLendon complained that his team was “the unluckiest team in the world,” but that wasn’t entirely true. They were a team that played a lot of close games, cursed with an unreliable kicker, Ray Hurd went 5/15 on field goals and 26/30 on extra points. In LSU’s losses, Hurd went 1 of 4 on field goal attempts and missed two PAT’s. He was suspended for the tie game against Ole Miss, but his backup, Steve Daniel, missed a PAT.
If you put an average kicker on the 1967 LSU team, the Tigers likely go undefeated and win the SEC, and get a chance to play for the national title. Instead, they went to the Orange Bowl to play undefeated Wyoming. For the third time in six seasons, LSU derailed a perfect season in its bowl game, rallying from a 13-0 deficit to beat unbeaten Wyoming 20-13.
The Greatest Games by Season
1962: Texas, 13-0; LSU gives Texas one of its 3 losses in 4 years;
1963: Georgia Tech, 7-6; Pat Screen leads win over top 10 Tech;
1964: Ole Miss, 11-10; Ferguson’s best Tiger Stadium moment ever;
1965: Arkansas, 14-7; Big upset is worst loss in Arkansas history;
1966: South Carolina, 28-12; Cholly Mack gets the Dietzel monkey of his back;
1967: Wyoming, 20-13; LSU ends yet another perfect season
Program Overview 1962-67
Athletic Director: Jim Corbett
National Titles: None
Conference Titles: Track (1963), Golf (1966-67)
Facilities Added: None
Jim Corbett knew that his job performance entirely depended on the football team, so he poured all of his resources into the same. He worked hard to improve the overall experience of LSU football. He oversaw the addition of the Golden Girls to the band in 1959, helped write “Hey! Fighting Tigers!” and added it to the LSU songbook in 1962.
Jim Corbett saw the musical “Wildcat” on Broadway, starring Lucille Ball. He was taken in by the big number, “Hey Look Me Over” and he entered negotiations to adapt the song for the collegiate level. He hired a songwriter, Gene Quaw, to compose new lyrics, and Corbett tested the new version on his children, who heartily approved.
Tiger Band Director Bill Swor adamantly opposed the new song. He said, “To the rest of the world, that song will always be Hey Look Me Over.” Corbett replied that the rest of the world doesn’t go to LSU games. Over 50 years later, who remembers a Lucille Ball Broadway musical? But everybody knows “Hey! Fighting Tigers!” Jim Corbett won.
Mike II died in 1956, but given the football team’s losing record, Corbett kept the news a secret to avoid more bad press. He issued a press release that Mike II was ill and would be kept in seclusion, and in the meantime, he had Mike II buried and replaced in secret by a second Mike II.
Unfortunately, the new Mike II had health problems of his own. He debuted in 1957 under the auspices as a fully healed old Mike, only to die of pneumonia in May of 1958. The campaign to have Mike II stuffed and placed next to Mike I never got off the ground.
Mike III arrived prior to the 1958 season, so his first season was a bit of a hard act to follow. Mike III is the most famous Mike, the one who went to every game and roared beforehand, but Dr. Sheldon Bivin, the chief veterinarian described him “as an angry, suspicious animal. He fussed and growled every time we came near him. His instinct was to fight for his life.”
Mike III battled a degenerative bone condition all his life, finally succumbing in 1976. He died after the first losing football season of his lifetime.
Jim Corbett may have been a master at marketing the football team, but the other programs started to atrophy under his general neglect. He put all of his eggs in the football basket, as facilities and then performance deteriorated elsewhere.
Ray Didier quit as baseball coach, replaced by Jim Waldrop for two undistinguished years (1964-65) and then Jim Smith. Al Moreau retired after a long, distinguish career as track coach in 1963 with one final SEC title. John May would take over the program as it stopped being an SEC power.
Led by BR McLendon, LSU did win two SEC titles in golf under coach Harry Taylor. But nowhere was the drift of LSU’s athletics program more apparent was in basketball.
Hoops Begins to Rebound (sorry)
Since Bob Petit left school, LSU basketball hit hard times. From 1955-67, LSU has one winning season, and that was a 13-11 campaign in 1961-62, hardly anything to write home about. LSU played its game in the Cow Palace, which forced the team to go on extended road trips each spring to accommodate the rodeo.
About the only bright spot was clearly the best player to arrive on campus since Pettit: Dick Maile. Maile led LSU in scoring and rebounding for three consecutive seasons, made two first team All-SEC teams, and even made an All-American squad in 1965.
Maile became just the second LSU player with 1000 career points and 500 rebounds. He helped LSU put together its best SEC season in ages in 1963-64, as the Tigers finished 8-6 and a mere game out of second place. The team lost three games by two points and simply couldn’t overcome being a one man show.
When Maile graduated, the bottom threatened to drop out of the program, so LSU went shopping for a big name coach. Jim Corbett lured Frank Truitt from Ohio State, the lone assistant from a program that won the national title in 1960.
Truitt lasted just one season, the 1965-66 season. The team went 6-20 and that was considered a good job. LSU’s facilities were so strapped that the team had to play some of its home games at Catholic High. Truitt took the first job he could out of Baton Rouge, to Kent State, and it was widely considered a lateral move.
Truitt summed up his tenure as such, “When I went there they said that we could have a new arena in two years, that I could carry over my 17 years retirement from Ohio, and that I would be tenured on the faculty, like I was at Ohio State. None of that happened. The fourth reason was I just assumed I could recruit blacks and didn’t think to ask before I took the job. The athletic director asked to see my recruiting list and said, ‘You can’t recruit these guys. We aren’t ready for this.’ I was just a coach, and it never occurred to me that could be a problem.”
Collis Temple wouldn’t break the color line at LSU for six more years.
Given a second chance to find a coach, Corbett used the same tactics of complete and utter deception.
Then, Corbett called. He flew Press down for a visit, ensuring that assistant coach Jay McCreary gave him a less than thorough tour of campus and the hoops facilities.
“McCreary was a good company man, and he did his best to conceal the negatives as he drove Dad around the sprawling campus,” Pete wrote in his memoir, Heir to a Dream. “At the time, Dad didn’t think much about it as his tour guide accelerated the car and cruised past the John M. Parker Coliseum. He would discover later that a walking horse show had all rights to the Coliseum until two weeks before Dad would debut his Tiger team. His practice sessions would have to take place in a high school gym with a short floor.”
But the real prize was not Press, who was a highly regarded coach, but his son, Pete. Pete Maravich could not meet the minimum score required for admission at NC State, where Press was coach, while LSU had a lower standard and could admit his talented son.
Corbett asked Press two questions up front. Would you be interested in becoming the basketball coach at LSU? Would you bring your son with you? And, by the way, LSU requires no minimum SAT score for athletic scholarships. Jim offered a salary $5,000 above Press’s current pay and pointed out that LSU had a “$5 million” field house on the drawing board. So, when he got Case’s blessing, [Press] accepted the job. He gave the increased pay as his public reason for the lateral (at best) move. However, his real motivation was the opportunity to coach his son.
Press took the job, and told his son that if he didn’t come with him to not bother coming home. LSU had its coach and its new star player, one that was a whole lot better than Dick Maile. Jim Corbett’s final act as AD was to essentially save LSU basketball. He hired a coach, but really, he brought in a savior.
Pistol Pete had arrived.