engster and kelly

Louisiana Radio Network's Jim Engster, right, with LSU Football Coach Brian Kelly at Louie's Cafe on Dec. 4. 

Jim Engster can't tell you what Brian Kelly ordered for breakfast at Louie's Cafe last Saturday morning, but he can dish that the new LSU Coach was a driver for former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart in 1984.

"That was before the scandal in (Hart's) 1988 presidential campaign," said Engster, president of the Louisiana Radio Network and Tiger Rag magazine. "(Kelly) was in the coaching business at the time, but it was the off season, so he was working for Gary Hart's first presidential campaign."

And Kelly didn't hesitate sharing that he's a lifelong Democrat.

Engster was having breakfast at Louie's with former LSU and San Antonio Spurs basketball player Collis Temple, also a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, when Kelly walked into the cafe. Kelly was named LSU's head football coach on Dec. 1, but apparently has already become a familiar face around campus.

"I was finishing my breakfast with Collis when we saw the coach," Engster said. "Either nobody recognized him or they were giving him his space, because no one bothered him. He was wearing sunglasses, but he took them off when he walked in."

Kelly and his assistant were scanning the dining room for a table when Temple motioned them over.

"He remembered Collis as a board member and even remembered that Collis' son plays for the Pelicans," Engster said. "So that was kind of impressive. And then we exchanged pleasantries and took a photo, and, I surmised that he and Collis wanted to talk about some things that they probably didn't want a journalist go over, but I was able to get the brief cliff notes version of it, and he seems like an exceptional, especially nice man and happy to be here."

That's when Kelly told Engster about his time in Hart's 1984 presidential campaign. Hart narrowly lost the Democratic nomination to Walter Mondale. He launch a second campaign in 1988, which crumbled when reports surfaced of an extramarital affair.

"But (Kelly) has a varied background," Engster said. "And I tell you, he really seems enthused about being in Louisiana. He's got a lot of monetary reasons to be enthused, but to leave Notre Dame, which is the citadel of college football, to come to Baton Rouge really says a lot about our little community that he found enough of an attraction here to leave what is regarded by some is the best job in college football."

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Engster only spent a few minutes with Kelly, which wasn't enough time to find out what the coach ordered for breakfast. But the radio host couldn't help being impressed by Kelly's knowledge of LSU's campus and south Louisiana.

"He found the breakfast spot that's been there for 80 years, and apparently did so on his own," Engster said. "It wasn't like somebody told him. He just found it. So, he also knew his geography. He said, 'I hear this place is good,' and his assistant said, 'Well, you can't mess up breakfast.' And I said, 'No, they won't mess it up here. You'll do fine.'"

Kelly also inquired about Lafayette during the visit.

"He was just double-checking, but he asked, 'Is Lafayette halfway between here and Lake Charles?'" Engster said. "And I said, 'Yes.' And he said to his assistant, 'Can you make me a reservation Ruth Chris's in Lafayette?' So, he's done a quick study when it comes to Louisiana, even though he is a guy who's never lived in the South, never lived in Louisiana. Obviously, he's getting acquainted quickly."

Engster also noted Kelly's personal assistant's commitment to her job.

"The fact that he had his personal assistant with him, too, was notable, because she obviously is fully aboard and doing her work," he said. "He was hired on Wednesday, and he was on day four of his tenure at LSU, and she was already on the job."

Engster posed with Kelly for a photo at Louie's then made his exit. He posted the photo on his Facebook page later in the day.

It seems no one had trouble recognizing the coach at that point, because the photo went viral.

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com