There have been times in D-D Breaux’s long tenure as LSU’s gymnastics coach when she wasn’t sure she would last another 42 days, much less 42 years. Like the time a former athletic director summoned her to his office and she didn't go, fearing he was going to tell her he was shutting down the program.
But Friday night, when Breaux steps onto the floor of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for the Tigers’ season opener against No. 8-ranked California (7:10 p.m., SECNetwork+), she will be stepping into history.
The start of her 42nd season at LSU will have Breaux alone at the top of a list of the longest-tenured coaches in any sport in Southeastern Conference history. She will break a tie with legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp (1930-52, 1953-72) and will stay one season ahead of South Carolina men’s soccer coach Mark Berson, who just completed his 41st season.
Those are coaches in men’s sports, however, coaches whose programs had an eight-decade start on NCAA women's sports. For Breaux, the fight to create a toehold for her program to survive in those early days was an enormous challenge.
“When you’re fighting all the Title IX battles and administrative battles I’ve had to fight, you feel like you’re climbing a windy tree and you’re out on a thin limb,” Breaux said.
These days, with her program in the midst of its most successful era ever, that limb is much more solid under foot.
“It’s never been better,” Breaux said. “I’m so happy to be at LSU with the staff and support I have.”
In the early days of LSU gymnastics, Breaux’s teams competed first in the Carl Maddox Field House, then in the Assembly Center with a huge purple curtain drawn down on one side of the floor to mask seats that her teams could never fill. She used to stand in front of local grocery stores trying to give away meet tickets, finding few takers.
In recent years, however, with a string of NCAA Super Six appearances and back-to-back SEC regular-season and championship meet titles to their credit, the Tigers often pack the PMAC. LSU ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in attendance in 2018, averaging more than 12,000 fans per home meet. Friday night when she and her gymnasts were handing out schedule cards and posters at the LSU-ULM men’s basketball game, there was a different vibe from those early days.
“People were excited,” Breaux said. “It’s very gratifying.
“You can have all the visions and dreams you want, but someone has to help them come true. Without the belief TAF and (athletic directors) Joe Alleva and Skip Bertman have had in our program, this never would have happened.”
The quest for LSU gymnastics’ first NCAA championship resumes again this season. The Tigers are ranked No. 4, returning all but five of the 24 rotations from last year’s team plus McKenna Kelley, a two-time All-American who sat out 2018 with an Achilles tendon tear. The Tigers bring back a host of experienced and talented gymnasts, including 2018 SEC all-around champion Sarah Finnegan, 2017 NCAA vault champion Kennedi Edney and Lexi Priessman, a five-time All-American on uneven bars.
“We have to stay healthy and take each meet as they come,” Breaux said. “We have high expectations for the team and feel they can accomplish any goal they set for themselves.”
After 42 years of coaching, Breaux knows that as well as anyone.