If you were carving a Mount Rushmore of LSU athletics, whose four faces would be on it?
You’d have a place for Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon to represent football, naturally. And Pete Maravich, college basketball’s all-time leading scorer, of course.
LSU’s success in women’s athletics deserves a spot. As worthy a face as any would be that of Seimone Augustus, LSU’s two-time women’s basketball player of the year and three-time Olympic gold medalist.
But what about the fourth face? Wouldn’t you need to have someone for athletics administration? And baseball?
No better choice than Skip Bertman. Grand slam.
The legendary LSU baseball coach and athletic director was set on Friday to become the first LSU coach to be enshrined with a statue on campus, standing just outside the Alex Box Stadium he raised the money and built during his administration.
It’s an appropriate honor for Bertman, who dusted off LSU’s dormant baseball program back in the 1980s and fashioned a dynasty from virtually nothing. But then he also became an effective athletic director, serving in that capacity from 2001-08.
As athletic director, Bertman hired Les Miles in 2005. Though Miles has always had his detractors, he did lead LSU to its most recent national championship in 2007 and averaged 10 wins a year for 11-plus years. And Bertman ushered in the beginning of a seat licensing program, known as the Tradition Fund, for LSU season ticket holders.
Before him, no LSU athletic director was willing to touch that thorny cactus of a topic. But Bertman could, and did, investing a sizable portion of his popularity with LSU fans from his baseball days and paring it with his innate knack for salesmanship. The LSU ticket-buying public may have grumbled about the Tradition Fund, but they accepted it because it was Skip Bertman saying this was what must be done to keep the school’s athletic program financially relevant.
He wasn’t the first national championship coach-turned-athletic director at LSU. That was Paul Dietzel, who led the Tigers to the 1958 national football title and returned as A.D. in 1978. But Dietzel was eventually driven from office in 1982, his ouster paving the way for Bob Brodhead.
Brodhead got to know of Bertman when Brodhead was working for the Miami Dolphins and Bertman was a baseball assistant at his alma mater, Miami. Brodhead was a lightning rod of an A.D., once illegally wiretapping his own office, but he hired a squadron of talented coaches. Coaches like Bill Arnsparger, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Sue Gunter, Jerry Simmons in tennis and Buddy Alexander in golf.
Bertman taught a lot of those coaches and many that followed how to win. How to dig a program out of the dirt and raise it to national relevance. He showed them by fashioning a baseball program that won five College World Series in a 10-season span from 1991-2000, a stretch that has not been surpassed since anywhere. Probably never will be.
And it wasn’t just LSU where Bertman made baseball relevant. He showed schools across the Southeastern Conference and the nation that baseball didn’t have to be a huge red mark on an athletic department’s budget. Every ballpark in the SEC has been either renovated or built new over the past two decades. You can easily say there’s a little bit of Bertman in every one of those seats, concession stands and fan entrances.
Given his impact at LSU on and off the field, there has never been another figure quite the measure of Skip Bertman in LSU sports history. Certainly that’s worth a statue.
It’s probably worth two.