The excitement of LSU’s first day of fall practice was tempered Thursday by news that first-year offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has Parkinson’s disease and will relinquish some of his duties.
Kragthorpe, a former head coach at Tulsa and Louisville and a noted developer of quarterbacks, will continue as quarterbacks coach, have input into game plans, and coach from the press box on game days. But the offensive coordinator’s duties, most notably play-calling, will be assumed by fifth-year offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, who was the offensive coordinator at Bowling Green for four seasons before joining the Tigers staff.
LSU coach Les Miles referred to Studrawa as “the play-caller and acting coordinator,” and twice referred to his new position as “a battlefield promotion” that will allow the LSU offense to “not miss a beat and continue on.”
Kragthorpe was hired in January to replace Gary Crowton, who resigned to become offensive coordinator at Maryland. It was hoped he would elevate the Tigers’ passing game, which was ranked last in the Southeastern Conference last season, and provide the missing ingredient to a national-championship contender. LSU was ranked fourth in the USA Today coaches preseason poll, which was released Thursday.
But now the offense will be coordinated by Studrawa, whom Miles said he considered promoting to replace Crowton before settling on Kragthorpe.
“The enjoyment for me is I have a very talented coach in Kragthorpe,” Miles said. “He’ll mentor and grow those quarterbacks as well as it can be done and then I have a veteran staff that understands pulling together and making it work.
“I don’t think the offense will really be hindered in any way. I think there might well be advantages. It’s unfortunate news. It’s not what we wanted, but with that being said we think we have a very clear and comfortable way to go, one that will give us a chance to have great success.”
Miles, who was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State from 1995-97, said he didn’t seriously consider taking over the play-calling himself.
“I meddle enough as it is,” he said. “There are some things I insist on and I’m a pain in the tail occasionally and I enjoy that role.”
Kragthorpe spoke briefly with reporters after Miles made the announcement.
“I want to thank Coach Miles obviously for the opportunity to come here initially, and I want to thank him for the opportunity to stay here,” Kragthorpe said. “This is obviously a little bit of a blow to myself, but by the same token we’re a family of great faith and we know that we will be exactly where God wants us, and that is here at LSU.”
Kragthorpe’s diagnosis, which Miles said he learned of three weeks ago, came almost exactly a year after he resigned as receivers coach at Texas A&M to care for his wife, Cynthia, as she recovered from heart surgery.
“I hope for the next eight, 10, 12 or 14 years that I can be here at LSU coaching the quarterbacks,” Kragthorpe said. “It is a place that I love. I love this team, I love this staff and working for Les.”
Kragthorpe referred to his illness as “more of a nuisance than it is anything else.”
Miles said the possibility of Kragthorpe stepping aside completely was discussed, but he decided that Kragthorpe still had a great deal to offer.
The changes in responsibilities were made, Miles said, to “arrest some of the duties that might be most taxing — the writing of the game plan, the ability to call it in a timely fashion.”
Parkinson’s disease is a motor system disorder, with primary symptoms of a tremor in the limbs and face, stiffness of the body, slowness of movement and impaired balance and coordination, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The disease usually affects people over 50, though Kragthorpe is 46. There’s no cure for Parkinson’s, but a variety of medications provides relief from the symptoms, according to the institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
Parkinson’s is chronic and progressive, but each individual patient may experience different symptoms and the severity of the symptoms also varies from patient to patient, according to the NINDS.
Miles said it was his understanding that once Kragthorpe reaches the proper “threshold” for his medication, he will “receive some really strong health for some extended period of time.”
“He’s hopeful,” Miles said, “and certainly we are as well that he’ll have the opportunity to coach for a number of years and be at LSU and to continue the things that he’s gotten started here.”
Miles reflected on the death of his sister, Ann, in an auto accident in April while discussing Kragthorpe’s challenge.
“What happens is you make a decision whether to go fishing or whether to chase your kids around,” he said, “what really is important to you — and you realize, frankly, that it’s not all about the game, it’s about the people you get to work with and how sincere it is and that you’re really sharing people’s lives.”
Miles told a few team leaders of Kragthorpe’s situation at a meeting Wednesday evening before telling the team at large after practice Thursday morning.
LSU canceled player interviews that were scheduled to take place after the morning practice. Players are expected to be available for interviews Friday.
Miles said making changes to his staff as the Tigers begin preparations for their opener against No. 3 Oregon on Sept. 3, could have been “a curveball,” but wasn’t.
“The reality of it is, we have our marching orders,” he said. “We know what we’re doing, and I like the feel of that (coaching staff). There’s a pull together, there’s a want to work together, there’s an enjoyment of each guy, and I think this is an advantage.”
Advocate writer Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this report.