More than 150 high school football coaches from across Louisiana packed themselves into a meeting room in the LSU Football Operations Center Wednesday night.
Some had to sit in the aisles, many kept notes on legal pads, and all sat attentively for roughly an hour as the most talked-about college football assistant coach in Louisiana conducted an offensive clinic.
Steve Kragthorpe, LSU’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, explained his offensive philosophy, walked the coaches through a video presentation of a few of the Tigers’ packages and showed the packages in use in video from practice and the spring game.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and he certainly has made a great first impression on me,” Lutcher High School coach Tim Detillier said. “The first thing is that he’s just so down to earth. A lot of times the coaches on the next level - not all of them, but some of them - have a little arrogance about them. He has none of that whatsoever. He’s just like one of the boys. I was very, very comfortable. Heck, I’m Harry High School and I felt right at home speaking to him.”
Kragthorpe, who was hired in January to replace Gray Crowton and rejuvenate the Tigers’ moribund passing game, began by calling the high school coaches the “lifeblood” of the LSU program because they turn out players “ready to play right out of the box.”
Winnfield High School coach Andy Pyles drove three hours to take part in the clinic, which he has participated in for 25 years. He visited individually with Kragthorpe as did many of his colleagues before Kragthorpe’s presentation and later when LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley gave a presentation from the other side of the ball.
“I’ve enjoyed visiting with him and picking his brain on little things in the passing game,” Pyles said. “I’m very impressed with him. From what I can gather, and I was down here for a camp in June, he’s very good with teaching quarterbacks. He’s a real positive guy. I was just impressed with the way he handled kids.”
Pyles said he has already seen improvement from his quarterback, Tolbert Triplett, who worked with Kragthorpe for three days during the June camp for high school players.
“From what I’ve seen (of Kragthorpe) I’ve been impressed,” Pyles said. “He’s a great teacher. My quarterback picked up a lot of things from him in the camp in June, which has helped us.
The LSU faithful are counting on Kragthorpe elevating the play of senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson, as well as Jarrett Lee and sophomore transfer Zach Mettenberger, should either of them be called on. An improved passing game could be the final piece to a championship puzzle for the Tigers.
“I’ve heard him speak to the high school guys a few times and I like the way he relates to them,” Acadiana coach Ted Davidson said. “I like his philosophy of simplifying. I don’t want to say anything bad about (Gary) Crowton, but he was a little ahead of me and coach Kragthorpe teaches on a level I think that players and guys can understand. I think it’s a real good fit.”
Kragthorpe developed a reputation as a top offensive mind and molder of quarterbacks in college football and as an NFL assistant. He went 29-22 in four seasons as head coach at Tulsa and took the Golden Hurricane to three bowl games. He had less success at Louisville, going 15-21 in three seasons in his last stint before coming to LSU.
“Let’s be honest: he’s in a hot seat,” Detillier said. “Sometimes the offensive coordinator, especially here, has more pressure than the head coach. I’m sure he’s well aware of that. He doesn’t need us to remind him.”
“When he has at Tulsa, he adapted to what Tulsa needed, and here at LSU I expect him to do the same, to adapt and to adjust to what the talent is and what’s expected. I think he’s a great addition.”
The Tigers welcomed in the coaches who were in town for the Louisiana High School Coaches Association Clinic.