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History Class: The Last Years of Carl Maddox

Basketball takes the center stage

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Carl Maddox
Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

Carl Maddox turned 65 in 1978. This triggered an anti-corruption rule on the books at the time, preventing the university from employing anyone over the age of 65, and mandating his retirement.

In Maddox’s last year before that impending deadline, he built a new tennis facility and an indoor sports complex in the Field House which now bears his name. He would also continue to add more women’s sports and overturn most of his coaching staffs. As we have seen, he didn’t quite take care of the Charles McClendon issue, leaving that as one of the first item of business for his eventual replacement.

LSU Gumbo 1976

Still, Maddox lived up to the mantra of leaving the place better than you found it. The 1970’s weren’t a decade full of huge wins, sorry to say, but Maddox built a new facility or authorized major improvements for every sport on campus. When Maddox took the job, LSU was Football or Bust, and he slowly changed that attitude. It didn’t entirely work, but he dd lay the groundwork for his successors to build successful programs on his foundations. Maddox was a builder, and after LSU, he would rebuild Mississippi St’s athletic program as their AD. Not bad for a retirement hobby.

Program Overview 1975-78

Athletic Director: Carl Maddox

National Titles: None

Conference Titles: Baseball (1975); Tennis (1976); Wrestling (1978)

Programs Added: Women’s Basketball (1976); Women’s Tennis (1976); Women’s Swimming (1978); Gymnastics (1974)

Facilities Added: LSU Field House (1975); Dub Robinson Tennis Stadium (1976); Tiger Stadium expands to 78,000 seats (1978)

There’s a bit of a belief that LSU baseball didn’t even exist before Skip Bertman. While the program was certainly minor, it did have its successes, and Jim Smith’s tenure was marked by ups and downs. He won three SEC titles, but over his 13-year tenure, he posted a losing record.

LSU Gumbo 1978

But befitting LSU’s priorities, Smith was first and foremost the football team’s equipment manager for 1960-81. Even after he would be fired from the baseball post in 1978, he stayed on the payroll in his football duties. It almost feels as if Smith was there to simply babysit the baseball team and save Maddox from having to pay another salary, any actual winning being incidental.

LSU Gumbo 1976

However, things came together in 1975. The funny thing was that the team had recently lost Mike Miley, its best player, and the consensus was that this was not his best team on paper. But games aren’t played on paper.

Pat Moock claimed, “That ’75 team was probably the least talented of the four years I was there.″ Second baseman Greg Ferrara said “Coach Smith took a bunch of role players and got us to play together.″

Moock was no slouch, winning 10 games and All-SEC honors. Larry Wright added some instant offense by stealing 25 bases in 1975, a school record until 1987. LSU would sweep a best-of-three postseason series from Georgia to win the SEC title and earn the school’s first NCAA tournament bid.

LSU traveled to Starkville for its regional, but never played its host. Moock won the opener against Murray St, but LSU couldn’t hold an early lead in its second game, falling to Florida St., 4-2. Miami would eliminate LSU from the loser’s bracket in a 8-1 blowout. It would be Jim Smith’s last winning season.

(PodKATT: Just want to note here that in 1976, LSU had a 2nd baseman by the name of Paul Mainieri. That may become important later.)

The Dub Opens as His Career Closes

Dub Robinson’s long tenure as tennis coach came to its close in 1975. It ended a coaching tenure that dated back to 1948, a 36 year run. Robinson’s teams were largely competitive, but he never won the SEC nor ever made the postseason. He finished 2nd in 1953, the first season of sponsored SEC play with a 12-1 record, and never came quite so close again. LSU would have four 2nd place SEC finishes in Robinson’s career, the last coming in 1958.

However, in his final season in 1974, LSU went 14-5 and finished 3rd in the conference and ranked #20 in the NCAA. He would be replaced by one of his former players, Steve Carter, who started wining almost immediately.

Carter would only coach at LSU for four seasons, but in those four years, he’d amass a 76-19 record, 65-11 in his final three seasons. From 1976-78, LSU finished 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the SEC and made the school’s first NCAA tournament in 1978, where LSU would reach the Sweet 16, losing to Pepperdine. LSU would finish the season ranked #12.

Helping key this run would be Hal Gorman, who earned All-SEC honors every year from 1976-79. However, it would be Gary Albertine (1976) and Drew Meyers (1977) who took home SEC titles.

Then, just as quickly as building an SEC power, Carter moved into administration to become the Assistant Athletic Director under Paul Dietzel. More recently, Carter has been a successful politician and as a state representative, is one of LSU’s staunchest allies in the legislature.

The Dub would not just play host to the men’s teams, but the women’s teams, which started play the same year the Dub opened. Under head coach Patricia Newman, LSU would win Louisiana AIAW titles from 1976-78. Newman would also serve as the assistant athletic director’s of women’s athletics, but that’s a story for another day.

More Coaching Hires!

The tumult continued in nearly every program. Maddox hired the legendary Bill McClure to helm the track program in 1977, replacing John May. He would make a massive impact on the program on the way to a Hall of Fame career, though primarily not at LSU. Like most of these late tenure hirings by Maddox, we won’t see this bear fruit until the 1980s, so we’ll tell the tale then.

Maddox would promote Ivan Harkless to run the new women’s swim team in 1978. Harkless had been the men’s coach from 1971-72, only to step aside for Edward Stickles. He’d finally get to run a program again with the addition of the women’s swim team.

Gerry Owens took over volleyball coaching duties once the women’s hoops team got up and running under Jinks Coleman, as she left the volleyball post to focus on one team. The upheaval is perhaps best symbolized by the case of Dave Sigler.

Golf coach Bill Brogden got the axe after the 1976 season, and Maddox’s search for a replacement led him to inquire about the availability of Maryland coach Dave Sigler. AD Jim Kehoe denied permission for Sigler to discuss the job, leading to a showdown:

On Dec. 28, Sigler inquired about the LSU vacancy. LSU in turn asked Kehoe if it could talk to Sigler. Kehoe refused. The next day he gave Sigler a pay raise and increased his budget.

All the time, Sigler was not aware of Kehoe’s conversation with LSU athletic director Carl Maddox. Two days later Sigler returned to Kehoe, disturbed that LSU has been denied permission to talk to him about a better-paying job with double the budget he had at Maryland.

Kehoe gave Sigler two choices: accept the pay raise and budget increase or quit.

Sigler said, “I resign.”

Kehoe said, “Put it in writing.”

Sigler did.

Kehoe said, “I accept it.”

“I think Kehoe was wrong,” said Sigler, whose team finished ninth in last year’s NCAA championships. “I think I have the right to seek employment where I want to. But I don’t think suing is the answer. I’m pretty sure it would blackball me completely from coaching. I want to continue coaching.”

Kehow said he denied LSU permission to talk to Sigler in midseason because of the effect it would have on recruiting, Sigler, in an interview, said that all of his financial aid already had been committed for the 1977-78 school year.

“Nobody’s going to talk to my people in the middle of the season,” said Kehoe. “I don’t want anybody coaching here when he might be dickering for another job . . . If he has a real good boy (recruit), he’ll probably take him with him. If a guy wants to do something else, be somewhere else, that’s where I want him to be. I want people here who are all for Maryland.”

In 1976, Maddox parted ways with wrestling coach Dave Ketelsen over their philosophy in recruiting. Ketelsen believed in recruiting local talent and he worked tirelessly to improve Louisiana high school wrestling. But his efforts failed to bear fruit at the collegiate level.

LSU instead turned the reins of the program over to young upstart Larry Sciacchetano, who was known as a tireless recruiter. From the indispensable SI profile in 1978 which I can’t recommend more highly:

“One reason I came here was because the administration committed itself to letting me recruit from coast to coast,” Shack says. “I got the job in May of ‘76. By then all the blue-chip high-schoolers were signed. I decided to save most of my scholarships, suffer through the first season and hope for a good recruiting year the next time around. Last year I spent an awful lot of time on the road. High school wrestling in the South is in its infancy, so I had to travel to where the best prospects were.”

Although in one breath Shack says, “I don’t intend to spend my life coaching,” he adds in the next, “There’s nothing in the world that’s as exciting.” Certainly, this season has been. Shack has built so well so fast that the nationally 17th-ranked Tigers won the SEC title and feel that they could be headed for an NCAA championship in the next two or three years. For the SEC meet, Shack resurrected the Chinese Bandits, the gung-ho third unit on LSU’s 1958 national championship football team. The coach outfitted his wrestlers in purple and gold T shirts with CHINESE BANDITS in oriental-type letters on the front. “It’s a gimmick,” he says, “but it worked.”

Though seven of Shack’s starters are freshmen and his team has had an inordinate number of injuries, he directed a remarkable turnabout this season. Louisiana State’s record was 10-5, with all the losses coming against top-20 teams. The Tigers’ most notable victory was a 27-14 thrashing of Florida, only the second loss in the last 30 SEC dual meets for the Gators.

George Atiyeh, also a defensive tackle on the football team, was the star, and he won an individual SEC title in support of the team’s overall title in 1978. He was not alone. Mike Chinn, Jeff Parker, and Eric Moll would all win SEC titles as well. LSU finished the season 17th in the nation.

Atieyeh would plan to participate in the 1980 Olympics by obtaining dual citizenship and competing on behalf of Syria. He put the plans on hold due to the boycott, feeling the timing was wrong. But he’d follow up on the plans and did compete in 1984 for Syria in Los Angeles.

DD Arrives!

LSU Gumbo 1979. DD Breaux on the far left

Believe it or not, DD Breaux was not LSU’s first gymnastics coach. From 1974-77, Jackie Walker held the head coaching job, posting a 33-36 record. One of Carl Maddox’s last decisions as Athletic Director would be one of his best: hiring DD Breaux to be the gymnastics coach.

“Carl Maddox said to me, ‘You’re not going to get plan A and I’m going to tell you no, so you better come in here with a plan B, you better have something else to settle for,’” Breaux said. “That mindset has paid dividends for me throughout the years. I’m totally not afraid to ask for something, because there’s a 100 percent chance I won’t get anything if I don’t ask. I’m not afraid to make mistakes or get people mad.”

So DD Breaux, a woman who once swam across the Mississippi River on a dare, took Maddox’s advice and asked for Plan A.

“They wanted me to coach in the old women’s gym, which is basically condemned,” Breaux, sitting in LSU’s new practice facility, recalls of her first year on campus. “Huey Long, the women’s gym. That desolate, awful place 50 yards from our front door. When they hired me, I said, ‘No, I can’t be in there every day coaching a team. That’s ridiculous.’”

It was the first of many battles Breaux would fight for a sport and a place she loved.

It was the first of many battles she would win, too. 

Her prize was, instead, a corner of the the Field House. Ernie Hill, the Field House director at the time, “carved out a space” for the program, Breaux says. It was small and crowded, shared among the men’s gymnastics squad, intramurals, track and field, and, on rainy days in the fall, McClendon’s football squad.

“Anytime anybody was in there, it was a ruckus,” she recalls. “You put 2,000 kids in there at night, everyone around a different court, and there was the gymnastics equipment on the side. Anytime there was a track event, we had to pick up all the equipment, pick it up, put it back down. It was quite an effort.”

Her program lacked scholarships, facilities, any sort of administrative support the moment Maddox left campus (and not a whole lot of support when he was there), no money, and near total disinterest from the students and alumni. She’d win her first regional title in 1978.

Despite these handicaps, Breaux is now critical of her performance as a young coach:

“The first couple of years, we didn’t have a facility, and we didn’t have a locker room,” Breaux said. “It was because of the efforts of Pat Newman, our women’s administrator, Ernie Hill at the Field House and Bill Bankhead, who ran the PMAC, that we had anything at all.”

With a team of mostly Louisiana-born players, LSU won four regional championships in the program’s first 10 years from 1978 to 1988.

Even with the early accomplishments, Breaux said she always has regrets about how the beginning of her career played out because she had the demands of balancing work with being a graduate student and a mother.

“The first couple of years I was a coach we had successes, but it was because we had good athletes, and I thought we did a pretty good job coaching,” Breaux said. “But I didn’t make the demands early that I could have or possibly should have.”

Forget winning. It’s a miracle that the program wasn’t smothered in the crib.

In the program’s first two decades, every Athletic Director ranged from indifferent to downright hostile to gymnastics. The most supportive AD was clearly Carl Maddox, and he basically viewed the program as a nuisance to become Title IX compliant. But at least he wasn’t working to kill it.

Frankly, LSU doesn’t deserve DD Breaux. After we’ve cataloged the long fight against the racism which plagued the school and its athletics program, we now get into the sexism and misogyny. Failing to even mildly support one of the greatest gymnastics coaches in the nation for 20 years is another red mark in the school’s ledger.

Dale Brown Starts Building a Winner

Carl Maddox hired Dale Brown in 1972, and Dale delivered a 9-9 SEC season 1972-73. He wouldn’t actually have a winning SEC season until 1977-78. LSU suffered through three outright losing seasons from 1973-76 and five years without a winning SEC season. Yet, despite all of the coaching turnover elsewhere on campus, Dale managed to keep his job and slowly build a program.

Dale Brown finally turned things around on February 11, 1978, perhaps the most important LSU basketball game ever played. But before we get to that, let’s step back in time to perhaps the origin myth of the Dale Brown era.

The Starkville Seven were seven players on the 1974 basketball team who snuck out of their hotel after bed check to, I don’t know, enjoy the thriving nightlife of Starkville. Pick your spots, guys. Let’s again go to the story:

When they drove up to their hotel, he recalled Tuesday, several players, who’d been drinking beer and talking to some young ladies they met before curfew, scattered in all directions.

“I told Jack, ‘You go up that stairwell, I’ll go up this stairwell,’ ” Brown said. “We went down the line knocking on doors and said, ‘You’re suspended, you’re suspended, you’re suspended.’ When we were finished, we had only five players left.”

Brown said the late A.D. Carl Maddox, whom he phoned in the middle of the night, offered to send up members of the junior varsity team the next morning to fill in, but Brown declined.

It was the perfect teaching moment, Brown thought.

“I told Mr. Maddox that I respected him, but I said, ‘We’ll play with five,’ ” he said. “You have to have rules. Two and two is four ... it can’t be five sometimes, and it’s never six.”

Actually, Siener said it should have been called the “Starkville Five” because only five players were caught initially; he and Dawn Tonkovich scrambled back to their room and jumped into bed.

“When Dale came in, I should have gotten an Academy Award because I looked like I had been sleeping for three weeks,” Siener said. “I asked what was wrong and he just said, ‘Sorry.’ ”

It caught up with them the next morning in a team meeting. Brown said they knew two more players were involved and urged them to come clean — which Siener and Tonkovich did.

“I went in and Jack started laughing,” Siener said. “He looked at coach Brown and said, ‘I told you Siener was involved. There’s no way he wasn’t.’ ”

That night, Temple, Eddie Palubinskas, Randy Herring, Ed LeBlanc and Frank LeFevre played the entire game — well, most of it. LeBlanc fouled out and Herring, who was dehydrated and cramping, was on one leg at the end.

That’s right, Dale Brown played with five men (and finished with just three and a half) just to prove a point. Dale Brown was certainly a player’s coach, but he was not a pushover. If you didn’t play by his rules, you weren’t going to play, but those rules applied equally to everybody.

Brown built a team that famously hustled for every loose ball and scrapped to the very end. He started to build more talent, but LSU was not ever going to be as talented as Kentucky, they would have to be tougher and play harder.

LSU Gumbo 1978

Which brings us to perhaps the biggest game in LSU hoops history. On February 11, 1978, #1 ranked Kentucky came to Baton Rouge. Not to spoil things, but Kentucky would win the national title. But Dale Brown was already building a rivalry with the cats.

A month prior, LSU lost to Kentucky in Lexington, and in his post-game comments to the media, Dale Brown singled out Rick Robey and Mike Phillips for dirty play. Kentucky sportswriter Billy Reed then challenged Brown whether his team ever played too physical, and Dale Brown responded with the universal sign for jerking off. The SEC suspended Brown for his behavior.

So let’s just say that Kentucky wasn’t overlooking LSU in 1978. This game mattered to them, too. LSU jumped out to a 12-point lead, but saw its lead slowly evaporate as all five LSU starters fouled out of the game. Yeah, all of them. Come overtime, Kentucky, already a heavy favorite, was now expected to walk over the Tiger reserves.

Only it didn’t happen. LSU again staked itself to a small lead, and then freshman guard Willie Sims sunk three free throws in the game’s final seconds to secure a 95-94 victory. LSU basketball had finally arrived.

This was pre-tournament expansion, so despite an 18-9 record, LSU stayed home for the postseason. That would not be the case in 1978-79, the final year of the Maddox administration. LSU went 23-6 and 14-4 in the SEC, winning the conference title and earning a bid to the NCAA tournament as the #3 seed in the Mideast Regional.

In the Second Round, they had the misfortune of meeting up with #2 seeded Michigan St., led by some guy who called himself Magic. It was LSU’s first tourney bid since 1954, also the last year LSU won the SEC. Some guy named Pettit did that.

Jordy Hultberg, then a junior guard and not the sportscaster we’ve grown to love, commented, “It was a terrific season. We all grew up together, and the fan base grew with us. We started winning and that begot winning. It was a perfect storm because football was in decline at the time. Coach (Dale) Brown seized on the opportunity to grow the program. It was a wonderful experience.”

However, before the tournament, Brown discovered DeWayne “Astronaut” Scales had contact with an agent. Fearing that he may have jeopardized his eligibility and that the NCAA might hammer the team, he suspended Scales. Without the 6’9” Scales to guard Magic, LSU had no hope. Sparty won 87-71, en route to winning the national title.

The Aussie Connection

We’ve already met Jinks Coleman as the volleyball coach, but in 1975-76, she added basketball coach to her duties and eventually became the exclusive basketball coach after a season.

The legendary Sue Gunter praised Coleman, “She established a standard another coach and I have yet to do. She set the standards for us; it’s something we can shoot for.”

However, women’s sports was still so disrespected on campus that Coleman had to coach the team on a voluntary basis. To keep her on salary, she had to maintain a schedule of five physical education classes, getting relief from the requirement of a sixth class for teachers by coaching the team.

LSU Gumbo 1978

The team was known as the “Ben-Gals” and the NCAA did not yet sponsor women’s sports, so the team competed under the auspices of the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women). The AIAW was founded in 1971 and worked tirelessly to promote women’s intercollegiate sports with a lot of success. Too much success, as it turned out, which would lead to its eventual downfall in the 1980s.

But in the 1970s, the NCAA still openly opposed women’s sports. Instead of stopping, female athletes simply formed their own organization to run the sports and conduct national tournaments. The AIAW basketball tournament was the biggest game in town.

The 1976-77 LSU Ben-Gals, in just the second year of the program’s existence, earned its first ever bid to the AIAW tournament. They blew out Western Washington 91-53 in the first round, and then followed it up with a 71-64 victory over Baylor to advance to the semifinals.

In the semis, LSU defeated the powerhouse Immaculata College team, 74-68. And no, that wasn’t snark. Immaculata College won three national titles from 1972-74, and was the national runner up in 1975 and 1976. Their loss to LSU was the first time Immaculata ever failed to make the finals of the AIAW tournament.

The run came to an end with a 68-55 loss to two-time defending champion Delta State in the finals. LSU’s administration took no notice, and not much has changed. The team was honored on the 40th anniversary in 2017, but

Surprisingly, it was the first such gathering for the players, and this one was not organized by anyone at LSU although the school did arrange for a meeting room at Walk-On’s the night before (there was a men’s game at the PMAC) and paid for the food.

Still ...

“LSU has never shown a great deal of interest in us,” said French, who took charge of putting together the reunion. “We were always invited to Alumni Day, but they never did anything special for us like they’ve been doing for the Final Four teams.”

With the entire starting lineup set to return, bigger things were expected in 1977-78. LSU did get revenge on Delta State in the regular season, beating them 86-76 in a game played in the Superdome. However, LSU dropped a regional qualifier to Stephen F. Austin, a team they had defeated twice in the regular season, and missed the national tournament. That SFA team was coached by an up and comer by the name of Sue Gunter.

LSU Gumbo 1980

But the 1977 and 1978 teams have a good case to be the two best LSU women’s teams ever. Yes, even over the fabled Seimone/Fowles teams.

These were the two highest scoring teams in LSU history, both cracking 3000 points, the only two LSU teams to do so. The teams were helmed by a pair of Australians, Maree Jackson and Julie Gross. To this day, their names dot the LSU record book.

Julie Gross scored 2488 career points, 3rd all-time in LSU history, and grabbed 1466 rebounds, 2nd in school history. Jackson isn’t far behind. She scored 1852 points, good for 6th all-time, and managed 1032 rebounds, 3rd all-time. In the backcourt, Lenette Caldwell added 1412 career points, 17th in school history.

The Aussies graduated and Jinx Coleman stepped down in the middle of the 1978-79. Just as quickly as she built a basketball power, it was gone.

The End of the Carl Maddox Era

Maddox was forced at the end of 1978-79 school year due to the law mandating forced retirement at 65. But it wasn’t a bad blood matter. It was the rule, and Maddox understood rules. No hard feelings, and he continued his career at Mississippi St.

Maddox wasn’t a radical by any means, but his decade-long tenure is one of almost constant upheaval. Maddox took over an athletic department in 1968 which sponsored just six varsity sports, played in facilities all built prior to World War II, and played by athletes who were all white men. When he stepped down in the spring on 1979, LSU sponsored eight men’s sports and five women’s sports. Every team had been integrated and with the exception of basketball, without incident (revealing how silly segregation was in the first place). Every team played in facilities which had either been constructed or renovated in the past 10 years.

It wasn’t the most successful decade on the field, as LSU had not won a national title of any sort since 1958, but he did have top ten programs in wrestling, tennis, and both women’s and men’s basketball. What Maddox did was bring LSU into the modern era, and he did it gently and in such away that the school didn’t even realize it was radically modernizing.

TP Heard and Jim Corbett were both more revolutionary AD’s who pushed the envelope at nearly every opportunity. But it is Maddox’s steady hand which built the structure of LSU sports upon their foundation. The Corbett Award is awarded each year to the top Athletic Director in college sports, but the Carl Maddox Award, presented by ASAMA, is warded to the best sports manager at either the amateur or professional level.

LSU had just three permanent Athletic Directors dating back to 1933 (and one interim in Harry Rabenhorst for a year). All three of them can stake a claim at being one of the greatest athletic directors in college sports history, as evidenced by their legacies and the awards named in their honor. LSU didn’t just have stability at the position for fifty years, they had stability with men who were great at their jobs.

Both that stability and touch of greatness would be absent in the future.

We turn the page now to wildest decade in LSU sports, one of immense highs and lows, of brilliance and utter mismanagement. Next up, the 1980s and the alleged misrule of Paul Dietzel.