clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

History Class: The Mike Archer Era

The highest of highs... and the beginning of the Dark Ages

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Football: USA TODAY Sports-Archive
Archer, in better days
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurrier Myth isn’t true.

The story that has passed down among LSU as received wisdom does have some truth to it. Bill Arnsparger did acrimoniously quit LSU, as the school would not make him the athletic director. He would turn up as Florida’s AD within the year. And he did recommend his defensive coordinator, Mike Archer for the vacated LSU job. But that’s not the whole story.

Steve Spurrier would not be hired at Florida until the 1990 season. Instead, he went from the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits to coaching the Duke Blue Devils in 1987. If there was some conspiracy for Florida to hire Spurrier, they sure took their time about it.

Spurrier himself went on Baton Rouge radio recently to tell the tale that he never even got past the first round of interviews. In fact, Spurrier was such a bad interview, Mississippi St. passed him over in 1986 as well. And if we are talking about what ifs? Spurrier in Starkville is a fascinating one.

Arnsparger quit in 1986 with the coaching carousel in full circle. Bobby Ross quit at Maryland, citing the failure of the school to live up to its promises for upgrades. Texas similarly moved on from Fred Akers.

The very first names attached to the job were former Tiger great and future ULL legend Nelson Stokely and former LSU OC and current Tulane coach Mack Brown. Like Spurrier, neither made much ground in the search because the Board of Supervisors wouldn’t know a good coach from a hole in the ground.

The list of names publicly attached to the job was long and inauspicious: former Cleveland Browns coach Sam Rutigliano, Texas A&M OC Lynn Amedee, Georgia OC George Haffner, and, ok, Broncos QB coach Mike Shananahan.

The final three were Archer, Shanahan, and Haffner, and the Board settled on Archer after a three and half hour meeting in which nearly 30 Tiger players testified on his behalf. Arnsparger’s support helped, but this was a decision endorsed by the team, coming off an SEC championship.

The logic was clear: this was a vote for continuity. And it first, it worked.

The 1987 Season

LSU would play six ranked teams in 1987 en route to a final spot in the AP poll at #5. I’ll give you one guess who LSU lost to. Yup, LSU dropped probably the most dispiriting game to Alabama prior to 2011, as a clearly superior LSU team lost at home to Bama, 22-10, in a game now called the No Sugar Tonight Game. LSU would go 30 years without beating Bama in Baton Rouge… this was the worst one, as it cost LSU a shot at the national title.

The season started with a rare trip to College Station to face rival Texas A&M, LSU’s first trip to College Station since 1922. A&M was a stacked team that would go on to win the SWC title. But the team was supposed to be even better than it was.

Harvey Williams, singing the War Hymn
Getty Images

Jackie Sherrill thought he had secured the commitment of Harvey Williams, who reneged at his announcement ceremony and chose LSU instead, adding some heat to the game. The story, which may or may not be true, was that Williams was set to declare for A&M at his Signing Day press conference, but he heard kids in the halls signing the Aggie War Hymn and... he decided he hated the song. So he shocked everyone and selected LSU over A&M, USC, and Notre Dame.

The Ohio St. game is probably the most mythic game of the season, including the Buckeyes refusing to take the field before LSU. It was an intense game, but it was more symbolic than an actual good game. LSU committed four turnovers, giving the game away at home. Tommy Hodson threw interceptions on two separate drives in the final two minutes of the game. Let’s not romanticize it. The Tiger Stadium crowd delivered, but LSU blew this one.

Ohio St coach Earl Bruce whined to the press after the game about the officials:

“I’m going to be a gentleman and not say anything about the officials,” Bruce said. “ . . . They’re seven nice guys. From the South.” He then proceeded to say it, accusing them of refusing to mark the ball as time wound down. “They wouldn’t let us snap it,”

But it wasn’t the officials who caused Tom Tupa to waste twelve seconds before finally calling the Buckeyes’ last timeout. The refs didn’t run the ball in the final 30 seconds, forcing the same timeout. And the refs didn’t block the potential game winning field goal. That would be Karl Dunbar.

The Florida game was another classic. Florida carried a 10-3 lead into the final quarter, thanks to a Harvey Williams fumble on the goal line. But he redeemed himself with a touchdown run in the fourth. A late interception set up a go-ahead field goal for Browndyke. Florida would roar back, but miss a 37-yard field goal on the game’s penultimate play to preserve a narrow LSU win.

Mack Brown’s Tulane team gave LSU all it could handle, erasing a 35-24 deficit with just seven minutes to play. Tulane would score a late touchdown and then Alvin Lee fumbled the kickoff, which Tulane recovered and turned into a touchdown on a miracle scrambling pass. Eddie Fuller would score his second most famous touchdown in the game’s final minute to secure the win.

But the most important moment of the game was that Harvey Williams injured his knee on the game’s final carry. It would turn out that he would require major surgery, and it would derail a career in which he rushed for 1000 yards as a true freshman.

Hodson in the Gator Bowl
Getty Images

The Rose Bowl was locked into the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs, the Orange Bowl got a pair of undefeateds in Miami and Oklahoma, and the Sugar Bowl chose undefeated Syracuse as an opponent for SEC champ Auburn rather than LSU, who did not play that season. The Cotton Bowl also passed on LSU, preferring to avoid a rematch with SWC champ Texas A&M. So LSU fell to the Gator Bowl, where they absolutely slaughtered the Black Death defense of #8 South Carolina. Wendell Davis scored three touchdowns, two in the first quarter, as the Gamecocks never had a chance.

LSU finished the year ranked 5th in the country. A loss and a tie to inferior teams cost LSU a major bowl and maybe the national title. Harvey Williams, in later years, stated that if Arnsparger was still the coach, LSU would have won the national championship. Given his propensity for dropping games against wildly outmatched teams, I doubt that. But it did feel like a missed opportunity.

Wendell F’n Davis

It’s hard talking about old players because of the passage of time, but also the way younger people will dismiss any talk of great former players as simple nostalgia. Look, if we have a problem of perception in this culture, its recency bias, not nostalgia.

So great, he jumped out of the color era of photography
LSU Gumbo 1987

And because of an unfortunate series of events, Wendell Davis is now doomed to be perpetually underrated. It’s now almost impossible to explain just how dominant he was in his day, but we are going to try.

Wendell Davis was named the 1987 SEC Offensive Player of the Year. He caught 72 passes for 993 yards in 1987. That doesn’t count his bowl game, in which he went for 132 yards on 9 catches for 3 TD. In 1986, he went 80-1244-11.

Those are good numbers today, but maybe not superlative, so let’s try and put this in to context. When he caught 72 balls for 993 yards, Tommy Hodson completed 162 passes for 2125 yards. Both numbers led the SEC. Davis accounted for nearly half of Hodson’s production.

With Wendell Davis as his primary target, Tommy Hodson completed over 60% of his passes at an 8.0 YPA and 140+ passer rating. As an upperclassmen, without Davis, Hodson completed about 55% of his passes at a 7.5 YPA and around a 130 passer rating. Davis made Hodson a legend.

Wendell Davis still ranks first all-time in LSU history in catches over a career, and he has two of the top ten seasons in both catches and receiving yards, despite lower overall passing numbers back in his day. He ranks behind only Josh Reed in career yards, putting him ahead of Chase, Beckham, LaFell, Jefferson, Clayton, or whatever recent player you can remember. His numbers, even without adjustment for the offense of the era, hold up against today’s players.

1980s LSU players live in a specific memory hole. First, the era itself is in the no man’s land before the modern era and after the mythologized era of Bear Bryant and Charles McClendon. But by a weird quirk, the unofficial official history of LSU football omits the 1980s entirely. Peter Finney’s definitive history of the program ends with 1980. Scott Rabalais’ modern history picks up the tale... starting in 1993.

Know what preserves a legacy? Record keeping.

Davis has the misfortune of playing just before the internet era, so his highlights don’t live on for eternity, and his NFL career was cut short by one of the most horrific injuries of the era, as he essentially jumped out of his knees on the infamous Veteran Stadium turf.

It’s almost fitting that two greatest LSU players of the 1980s. Michael Brooks and Wendell Davis, were essentially erased from the historical memory due to injuries. They were that good. But it’s like arguing on behalf of a phantom.

The cliché is actually true: you had to be there.

There’s also the additional tragedy of Eric Andolsek, killed an car accident in 1992. The dark cloud which hung over the program in the 1980s and 90s was almost all-encompassing. Every good thing came with a “but...”

The Last Good Year

Fresh off a 10-win season, LSU came into the 1988 season as a popular pick for the top ten. Tommy Hodson was a borderline Heisman candidate, and SI started the hype machine, even when issuing a back-handed compliment:

Tommy has lost only one road game since he was the quarterback at Lockport Junior High, down along Bayou LaFourche (la-FOOSH). Last year LSU had a 10-1-1 record, including a Gator Bowl win over South Carolina. The loss was to Alabama, a game Hodson didn’t start in because of a sprained right knee. “We were better than Alabama,” he says. “But they won. Football is not a game of luck.”

“It’s going to depend on how the state does as a whole, if Louisiana can come back,” says Raymond Jr. “Louisiana has been losing youth and brainpower to other places. We have to do something to keep them here, and the politicians have to bite the bullet.”

The LSU quarterback has to bite the bullet too. If the Tigers make it to the Sugar Bowl despite that schedule, then anything could happen. Louisiana might even come back one day.

“Where’s it been?” asks Tommy Hodson. Then he laughs. Nice touch.


And things went according to plan at first. LSU destroyed #11 Texas A&M 27-0 in the season opener, and followed things up with a blowout win in Knoxville over Tennessee.

LSU then travelled to Columbus for a top ten matchup with Ohio St. Things were going according to plan, as LSU held a 33-20 lead with four and half minutes to play, but things would take a turn. Carlos Snow scored a touchdown with a little under two minutes to play to cut the lead to six.

LSU not only couldn’t get the first down, the offense moved backwards, and the Tigers opted for a safety rather than punt from their own end zone with 1:34 to play. Bobby Olive returned the free kick 30 yards, and four plays later, he would catch the game-winning touchdown as time expired. LSU lost a classic, 36-33.

LSU dropped its next game the following week, as Florida held Tommy Hodson to 72 passing yards in a 19-6 win.

Damn you, Emmitt Smith
Allen Dean Steele /Allsport

Now 2-2, LSU fell out of the top 25 as it hosted #4 Auburn in what would become one of the most famous games in Tiger Stadium lore. The LSU Reveille sport reporter assigned to the game, Scott Rabalais, described the game as “a win for the ages,” giving all credit to the defense for an outstanding performance.

But the story of the Earthquake did not come until later. In a retrospective, the players tried to claim they knew. “When Eddie caught that ball, we could feel the vibrations under our feet,” Verne Ausberry claimed. “That was the first time we had felt that.”

But Auburn fans dispute that tale this day.

The 1988 Auburn-LSU game was the first time I cried over football. It was October 8. I was nine. The game was on ESPN. My Dad, my uncle and I sat stunned, an empty Pizza Hut box in front of us—no more pizza, no more hope. I hopped out of the recliner and ran up-stairs. Dad found me bent over the toilet in the dark.

But beyond my first true taste of mortality, the ’88 game—the so-called “Earthquake Game”— is most notable for the retroactive apotheosis of the not-so-peculiar incident to which it owes its nickname.

And the national postgame review made no mention of the earthquake.

Hodson left himself, his teammates and the passionate, noisy L.S.U. fans in Tiger Stadium drained as he went to the limit more than once in that scoring drive. Before the touchdown pass, Hodson had a fourth-and-9 situation and completed a pass to Willie Williams for 9 yards to put the ball on the 11.

‘’That touchdown pass was the only throw I had left in me,’’ Hodson said. ‘’If football had five downs I don’t know if I would have had it left in me.’’

They wouldn’t know about the earthquake until days later.

There is also speculation that a seating change aided the earthquake. According to theories, LSU installed metal bleachers over the concrete stands. The bleachers sat a few inches off the concrete stands, bowing and bouncing under the weight of joyous fans. Speculation is, because it nearly collapsed, the new stands were bolted down, securing them and eliminating their ability to bounce.

It sounds like a ridiculous coincidence, but the seats may have served as an amplifier for vibration. “No other crowd ever behaved that way during the time that Tiger Stadium’s seating was configured that particular way,” says Johnston. A history of the stadium on confirms construction and bleacher changes around this time. Adds Johnston, “The stadium had an odd seat tier construction that particularly favored the transmission of energy from jumping to the ground.”

Stevenson does not finger the bleachers as a culprit and says it wasn’t solely the screams of Tiger fans that put them in Ripley’s. “I don’t think it had anything to do with the seats other than everyone leaped out of them and started jumping up and down yelling. At the time, I doubt there were many sitting down anyway,” he says. “The major contribution of vibrations in this case was probably offered through the jumping up and down of thousands of fans and not the sound of screaming fans.”

Print the legend, you know? Eddie Fuller’s touchdown is still one of the most famous in all of LSU lore.

Of course, what makes it the Earthquake Game is that LSU went on to win the SEC title. LSU won five consecutive SEC games, including a 19-18 thriller over #18 Bama to secure the SEC title. Down 15-0, LSU rallied for 16 consecutive points to take the lead, only securing the win when Phil Doyle’s 54-yard field goal sailed wide.

Hodson, beating Bama
Getty Images

At 6-1 in the SEC, LSU had secured at least a tie for the title, and held the tiebreaker with Auburn. And while it didn’t impact the 1988 SEC title race, the unofficial beginning occurred on November 19, 1988. It was on that day that #11 LSU lost to #3 Miami 44-3. At home. It even rained.

In a way, it wasn’t as bad as the score. It was just one of those nights in which everything went wrong. LSU probably was a better team than they showed that night. Heck, even #1 Florida St. lost to Miami 31-0 that year. On the other... 44-3 is 44-3:

Actually, it was only half horror-show. The other half was prime-time Fatty Arbuckle, LSU doing a remarkable series of pratfalls that was hilarious if you weren’t someone who bleeds Tiger Purple and Gold.

To wit, in chronological order:

LSU punter Rene Bourgeois kicks after the Tigers’ first possession, knuckleballing it only 31 yards to set up Miami’s first touchdown.

Bourgeois, back to punt at the end of LSU’s second possession, sees a tidal wave of Hurricanes jerseys bearing down on him. He flees to the side, throws a wobbly pass which is incomplete, setting up a Miami field goal.

Brian Griffith replaces Bourgeois as Tigers booter, and, still in the first quarter, squibs a kick only 15 yards. Hurricanes joyfully say thanks with their third score.

Early in the second quarter, deep in LSU territory, Tigers running back Eddie Fuller fumbles trying to sweep left end. Miami’s Randy Shannon recovers, leading to another Hurricanes field goal.

When the Tigers finally get a decent drive going, they march down to UM’s 3 where quarterback Tommy Hodson promptly stumbles taking the snap. On fourth down from the 8, David Browndyke amazingly misses a field goal.

With 3:30 left in the half, LSU has a fourth-and-2 at Miami’s 17. The Tigers nix a run, and this drive dies when Hodson throws a poor pass into the end zone that UM’s Charles Pharms intercepts.

It was far too much tomfoolery to allow the Tigers to escape with a victory against the No. 3-ranked Hurricanes, who earlier in the evening had accepted an Orange Bowl invitation.

It cost LSU the Sugar Bowl, who took Auburn instead, coming off two top 25 wins in the last two weeks. Had it not been for a one-point Auburn loss, the Sugar Bowl likely would have hosted a showdown of undefeated Auburn and Notre Dame. Instead, they hosted Florida St.’s win over Auburn while Notre Dame won the national title against West Virginia in the Fiesta.

LSU was shipped to the Hall of Fame Bowl, where the SEC champions lost a lackluster game against Syracuse to finish 8-4. And like that... the Dark Ages had begun. We just didn’t know it yet.

Archer Loses Control

When Archer took the job, Arnsparger gave him some valuable advice, advice that fell on deaf ears.

Whatever you do, do not fight the political battles,” Arnsparger told Archer. “You’ll lose.”

Archer went 10-1-1 in 1987, won the SEC title a year later, yet still “lost.”

“Mike did his best to stay clean,” J.R. Ball, editor of Tiger Rag magazine, said recently. “It was probably a mistake. People felt like he snubbed them.”

And there were other problems. Six players were caught cheating on exams in 1987. In 1988 a local NAACP official accused the LSU program of racism largely because of its failure to play a black quarterback. When LSU dipped to 4-7 in 1989 and 5-6 in 1990, some school officials and Tiger boosters were all too willing to point the finger at Archer.

“Players were skipping class because the students, and even some teachers, were harassing them so badly,” Archer said. “(All-SEC quarterback) Tommy Hodson refused to go back to this one class. He said `I can’t. They just ridicule me.’ “

It wasn’t entirely Archer’s fault. He was the youngest head coach in the nation, still under 40 years old, and he stepped into the political viper’s next of LSU right when the Board of Supervisors had consolidated its power.

We’re gonna talk A LOT about this guy in a bit, but that’s another article

Bob Broadhead was out as AD, replaced by the booster’s choice, Joe Dean. The reforming chancellor who had ruffled so many feathers, James Wharton, failed to get his candidate, interim AD Larry Jones, the job. A few months later, Wharton himself was out of a job over the readmission of a student.

And as soon as things started to turn on the field, they went bad off the field. The program started leaking like a sieve, airing all of the dirty laundry. 12 football players were suspended in 1989 for academic dishonesty, stemming from cheating in a Geography class.

But the biggest issue confronting the football program was not cheating on tests, but the school’s abysmal record in regards to integration.

In the spring of 1988, the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP released a devastating report on the LSU football program. LSU “has no black athletic counselors, no black athletic advisors, no black athletic coordinators, no recruiters on staff for football, baseball or track for men or women.” The letter further stated that “black participation has regressed” and “these findings are appalling.”

G. Washington Eames was the plaintiff on the lawsuit which desegregated Baton Rouge public schools in 1956 and by the mid-80s was the president of the local chapter of the NAACP. He was a powerful force in recruiting for the school, and his public pull of support was a huge problem from the school.

The players went as far as to consider a boycott in 1989, though that never came to fruition. He did pull a meeting with Dean, Archer, and the new Chancellor Bud Davis, and did not pull punches in his public comments:

“These kids do not feel confident going to this coaching staff with problems,” said Eames. “And the fans don’t embrace them. The whole community needs to change and show the kids they care. These kids aren’t dumb. They watch Michigan, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and see how those football players are treated on the field and off. They don’t get that treatment here.”

“I think the word has been out for some time among blacks that LSU might not be the place to come to play football,” said Eames. “There have been calls across the country. And that should be evident. the coaching staff and fans should be able to realize that LSU is not fielding the best black talent.

“It is imperative for LSU to sit back and take a long look at the situation with the football program.”

His efforts did bear some fruit, as in 1990, Mike Archer promoted Pete Jenkins to assistant head coach, allowing him to hire John Mitchell as the new defensive coordinator. He was the first African-American coordinator in the SEC.

The article announcing his promotion took no note of the accomplishment until the 16th paragraph of the story, instead focusing on Jenkins. It was not a popular hire, and was not supported by the Board of Supervisors.

Reform is great when you are winning. When you are losing, they call it a distraction.

The Losing Starts

The 1989 season began with the special teams unit allowing A&M to return the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. The game, nor the season, would improve from there. A new era started with a bang for both teams, as six straight losing seasons for LSU started with a loss to newly minted A&M coach, RC Slocum.

LSU fell out of the top 25 the following week after a competitive loss to a Florida St. team that would finish #3 in the polls.

In a four week stretch in October, the LSU Dark Ages took hold. LSU lost four consecutive games, all by a touchdown or less. Auburn and Tennessee were ranked 11th and 12th respectively. This wasn’t a bad team getting crushed by far superior foes. This was a team that just could not buy a break, losing every game in seemingly a new agonizing way.

Most fittingly, LSU lost to Florida in what was called “the first overtime game.” LSU forced an incomplete pass on the game’s final play to preserve a tie, and the fans celebrated. Heck, the stadium officials even set off fireworks.

But the officials conferred and put one second back on the clock, enough time for Florida kicker Arden Czyzewski to nail a 41-yarder to win the game. It was that sort of year. If it weren’t for bad luck, LSU wouldn’t have had no luck at all.

LSU wouldn’t right the ship until the Chuck Mullins Game. Mullins was an Ole Miss player paralyzed during a game. Students walked through the crowd, collecting money for Mullins during the game, hoping to reach a goal of $50,000. They raised $180,000. But LSU won on the scoreboard, denying Ole Miss the full storybook finish.

The Tigers limped their way to a 4-7 finish, and managed to rationalize away the poor results. The senior class was infamously aloof, the offseason scandals divided attention, the losses were close... the media talked itself into the fact this was one bad year and the cancer had been excised in the offseason.

After all, LSU was just a season removed from two SEC titles in three years, and the season in between was a 10-win campaign that fell just shy of a national title. Things were still bright in Baton Rouge, though the Board of Supervisors put Archer on a tight leash in 1990. Get results, or get fired.

LSU started the 1990 season #7 and while they probably didn’t deserve that ranking, there is probably a version of the 1989 season in which LSU goes an anonymous 8-4 and finishes in the back of the rankings. But that’s not what happened.

Instead LSU limped its way to a 4-7 season, closing things out with blowout wins over State and Tulane. But Mike Archer could have a chance to right the ship in 1990…

And then he lost to Vanderbilt.

That’s not a gratuitous shot at Vandy. The 1990 Vandy team was bad, even by Vandy standards. They would finish the year 1-10, their only win a 24-21 triumph over LSU. Vanderbilt was so bad they lost to still reeling from the Death Penalty SMU. By 37 points.

Todd Kinchen actually caught what was assumed to be the game winning touchdown with ten seconds left, but was called for offensive pass interference. Even the Commodore players think it was a shaky call.

“Did he push Derek? Yes. But was Derek already falling over? Oh absolutely,” [Carlos] Thomas recalled. “It was a push, but it was an aided push. He didn’t really have to exert much force for Derek to hit the ground, considering he was already halfway there.”

The Todd Kinchen “game winner” that was not a game winner
LSU Gumbo 1991

The next week, LSU bounced right back, beating #10 A&M in College Station. Todd Kinchen had an all-timer of game, catching a touchdown pass and contributing 60 yard punt return.

OK, LSU would lose two of the next three, as the Florida schools had achieved peak operational efficiency. Florida and FSU combined to beat LSU 76-11, showing the growing gap between LSU and the top teams in the country. But that wasn’t a strictly LSU problem, the Gators and Noles were killing a lot of teams.

The game preview story tells the tale of how bad things had gotten for Archer.

Two weeks later, after the Tigers were humbled by lowly Vanderbilt on national television, Archer would have lost a popularity contest to Saddam Hussein.

“I’d say that at least 90 percent of the people in Louisiana wanted me fired after that game,” Archer said. “When I jogged around the campus that week, I felt like I needed to wear a bulletproof vest. People would yell obscenities at me, or they’d just give me an angry look and shake their heads. It was rough.”

“The only thing that concerns me is our players. As long as we, the players and coaches, work as hard as we can every week, then I’m going to be satisfied. That’s all that matters to me. We have a lot of good young men on this team, and they play for LSU. They don’t play for Mike Archer.”

Archer, a former assistant at the University of Miami, is fortunate to still be at LSU. There was a strong movement among the school’s most influential alumni to have him removed after a senior-laden LSU team floundered through a 4-7 season last year. Archer got support from the administration and Athletic Director Joe Dean. But Dean warned Archer that the support would erode quickly if the Tigers struggle through a losing 1990.

Thus far, Archer has stated a strong case for being allowed to keep his job. Take away the Vandy debacle, and the Tigers have been impressive. LSU dominated the 11th-ranked Aggies Saturday night, holding the powerful A&M; offense — which had been averaging 548 yards a game — to 288 yards and a late touchdown. With only two senior starters — none on defense — the Tigers are one of the surprise teams in the SEC, and a certain future contender for the league championship.

“With 20 of 22 players coming back next year, I’m excited about the future of LSU football,” Archer said. “I’m also excited about this season. I like this football team a lot. These players play hard and they play together. We’re playing as a team, which is something we didn’t do last year.”

Dissension was the major factor in LSU’s self-destruction last season. With quarterback Tommy Hodson and other senior stars preferring to keep to themselves, team unity quickly dissolved.

“The atmosphere is totally different this year,” sophomore strong safety Derriel McCorvey said. “We are a bunch of guys who like each other and play together as a team. There are no stars on this team; just a bunch of good athletes who love to play the game.”

This isn’t a post hoc rationalization of the firing, this was published in the local newspapers before LSU lost to Florida. That was a terrible sign of things to come.

At this point, LSU was 4-3, and with the traditional season closer against Tulane still on the schedule. The Tigers needed just one more win in SEC play to become bowl eligible. This is how a team falls apart, and a head coach gets fired.

Ole Miss was actually pretty good in 1990, finishing the year 9-3 and ranked. So the loss wasn’t catastrophic, though disappointing. Then came a Bama team that was not like the Bama you know. The Tide would finish the year 7-5. Neither their leading receiver (Lamonde Russell, 306) nor leading rusher (Chris Anderson, 492) cracked 500 yards. Their starting QB, Chris Hollingsworth, threw for only 1463 yards on 49.6% passing and a 4/13 TD/INT ration. I did not get that backwards.

Yet this Alabama team didn’t just beat LSU, they blew them out, 24-3.

LSU travelled to Starkville needing a win to stay bowl eligible. State was mired in their fourth consecutive losing season, but no matter. The Bulldogs came away 34-22 winners.

Archer Resigns

This game didn’t get Mike Archer fired. Nope, he had already resigned prior to dropping this one. He resigned the week after the Alabama game. It had leaked out publicly that the school planned to fire Archer regardless of results of the final two games, and he took matters into his own hands.

‘’What I did is in the best interest of the football team,’’ Archer, 37, said during a brief news conference. ‘’It`s in my best interest. I need to get on with my life. They need to get on with theirs.’’

The youngest Division I-A football coach when he was hired four years ago, Archer has a 26-17-1 record in his first head coaching job.

Baton Rouge`s WBRZ-TV reported Wednesday night that Archer would be fired at the end of the season.

‘’To be a head football coach, you have to recruit,’’ Archer said. ‘’I felt like the report last night has killed recruiting.’’

Archer said he decided Thursday morning to resign, then waited until he could inform his team. ‘’I must emphasize that I was not put under any pressure to resign . . . we leave here with our heads held high,’’ he said.

LSU Athletic Director Joe Dean said that six weeks ago he hired a national executive search firm to produce a list of candidates, should that become necessary. He said hiring the firm probably added fuel to the rumors that Archer would be fired.

Archer entered the 1990 season with a team missing 16 starters, including quarterback Tommy Hodson.

Six weeks ago?! That means Joe Dean was already planning to fire Mike Archer after the Florida game. If you’ll look back up, you will see that’s when that hatchet job of an article appeared in the Florida papers.

It’s over 30 years later and none of us where there... but I will bet dollars to donuts that Joe Dean leaked the negative quotes in that story to give the image of a coach under siege. Or at least someone connected to him.

Archer dug his own grave at LSU, but the administration absolutely cut him off at the knees. It is to his credit that he resigned with grace to spare the school any more bad ink. It seemed he cared more about the program than the athletic department.

Archer carried off the field after beating Tulane
LSU Gumbo 1991

On his way out, Archer at least was able to take one final shot.

Dean said Archer’s contract, which has two years left at $88,400 per year, will be honored.

Archer sported the best first-year record by an LSU head coach in 1987 when the Tigers were 10-1-1 and went to the Gator Bowl. That was followed by an 8-4 record in 1988 and 4-7 in 1989.

On Thursday, Archer said the football program needed to regain stability.

“In the eyes of a lot of people in this country, the way things are handled here are a joke,” Archer said as a large group of his players applauded.

I’ve taken some positions contrary to popular wisdom in the course of this series. I’ve defended the tenure of Jerry Stovall, besmirched the legacy of Paul Dietzel, and openly questioned Bill Arnsparger’s ability to resemble a normal human being. I can’t go so far as to say Mike Archer did a good job. He was in over his head, and started taking on water almost immediately.

He did however, win an SEC title and won 10 games in his first season. He wasn’t completely helpless, and he maybe deserved more of a chance to pull out of the tailspin. But the AD and Board of Supervisors took one look at all of the bad press circling the program and knew they needed a scapegoat. And they dumped it all on Mike Archer.

Archer deserves some of that culpability. It’s his players who cheated in class. He did have two losing seasons right after two winning ones. He did lose the locker room in 1989, and the racial tensions swirling around town were not a figment of the NAACP’s imagination. Those are serious demerits.

But he wasn’t the only one, and the story over the years has been one that Mike Archer was somehow uniquely responsible. They could have made things easier on him, and instead fanned the flames of discontent so they could bring in their own man. And with a six week head start on finding Archer’s replacement, Joe Dean and the Board of Supervisors would now completely own the next hire.

The Dark Ages were about to get worse. And they couldn’t blame it on Mike Archer anymore.

The Greatest Game From Every Season

1987: Georgia, 26-23: Davis Dominates the Dawgs

1988: Auburn, 7-6: The Earthquake Game

1989: Florida, 13-16: The First OT Game

1990: Texas A&M, 17-8: Kinchen Goes HAM