The LSU Lady Tiger 101 Football Clinic, sponsored by Coach Les Miles’ wife, Kathy, is enough to make the manliest football fan briefly entertain the idea of putting on a skirt and lipstick. Billed as an “x’s and o’s” workshop only for female Tiger fans, it is also a behind the scenes look at the life of an LSU Tiger—a peek into the world of student-athletes that most fans, regardless of the school affiliation, rarely see.
Such is the experience that I and some of the ladies from our Back 9 Tigers tailgating krewe, along with roughly 500 others, were privy to on July 31. The day started in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with a welcome from LSU’s first lady of football, Kathy Miles; former LSU player-turned-radio commentator Gordy Rush served as Master of Ceremonies.
Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton, Defensive Coordinator John Chavis and Special Teams Coordinator Joe Robinson taught the strategy portion, each session followed by audience participation in drills to run plays and punt. The drills often bore little resemblance to football practice and looked more like party games at a baby shower. Crowton's double scat, Chavis's W drill, and Robinson's punting exercise never looked so, well, sad. But you do what you can wearing flip flops and/or heels and a dress, as one participant did. "Seriously, where did she think she was going?" I heard someone ask. (Yes, even Lady Tigers can be catty.)
I’m convinced that Coaches Crowton and Chavis favor opposite sides of the brain. Crowton loves the flash and dash kinds of plays. Chavis, thankfully, focused on defense fundamentals, something LSU fans sorely missed last year. These guys are cool. No wonder Les Miles always seems to have a little smirk, like he knows something he’s not telling. He does. I think he likes what these guys bring to the team.
“Who’s the cutest player on the team,” another asks of Coach Crowton. After thinking about it for a few seconds, he laughingly declined to answer. Smart move. Colt David’s not there anymore.
New defensive coordinator, John Chavis, was asked about playing in Tiger Stadium. “I know what it’s like being in Tiger Stadium,” he said. “I’m on the right side now.” The women stood and cheered, almost as if they’d just watched junior safety Chad Jones pull a “LaRon Landry” on Florida QB Tim Tebow. Clearly these women love a strong defense.
Athletic Trainers Jack Marucci and Andy Barker, Head Equipment Manager Greg Stringfellow, and Derek Cowherd and Walter Holliday, academic advisors to the LSU Tiger football team, take the stage next.
“How do you get the stains out?” one woman asked of Stringfellow who gets those 105 players dressed out for the game, and then faces the Mother of All Laundry Challenges (grass stains, blood and copious amounts of South Louisiana sweat) afterward.
We hear about the logistics of transporting dirty uniforms to the laundry, immediately after the game ends, and disinfecting shoulder pads. The challenges of transporting all this equipment cross-country for games.
And what it’s like to take care of the student part of the LSU student-athlete, helping them through the transition period of adjusting to college, and to the point where “we can take the training wheels off.” We sensed that graduating students is just as important as building athletic ability and keeping players healthy. The moms in the room were pleased.
For the record, the team goes through 40 thousand rolls of athletic tape in a season, costing around $60,000. Custom-molded knee braces, about $500 per knee. LSU is one of the few schools with an echocardiogram on site. Blood pressure is monitored and blood tests, for things like sickle cell anemia, are conducted so any medical problems are detected early.
There are full eye exams, custom-made mouth molds and players go through psychological evaluations. Weight is checked before and after practice, as hydration is even more critical in the Baton Rouge heat. It’s not uncommon for a player to lose 15 pounds after one practice. Where do we sign up?
To uniform each Tiger on the team costs about $2,000 each and each player goes through about six pairs of cleats per season between practice and game wear. By the way, the largest pair of shoes on the team is a size 18.
Senior Offensive Guard Lyle Hitt appeared by video in his version of “LSU Cribs” and provided an overview of the LSU weight room, training rooms, team meeting rooms and the indoor practice facility. The funniest moment was of Lyle sitting in Coach Miles’ chair in his office, looking just a little too comfortable. Good thing Coach Miles has a sense of humor.
In what could have been promoted as LSU’s version of “The Family Guy,” Coach Miles and Kathy sat for an interview with Gordy in the Bo Campbell Auditorium in the Cox Academic Center. Coach looked tired, probably from a whirlwind of speaking engagements during the previous weeks.
Daughter Katherine (called “Smacker”) rattled off a list of her dad’s Top Five Keys to Success, which apparently involves Raisin Bran cereal, Nestea Iced Tea, and his staying far, far away from the cooking duties. Coach Miles shared a story of son Ben’s disappointment in learning that his dad had never been drafted by the NFL, fearing this might make him genetically unsuitable for the NFL himself one day.
When asked about their game day superstitions, Kathy talked about the cross she now wears around her neck on game day, and Coach talked of how he likes to keep the game day schedule exactly the same—no matter what.
It’s clear that family, especially Kathy, is important to Coach Miles. “I could not do the job I am doing without her in my life,” he said. He’s a sweetheart; he gets it, we thought. He also talked of chemistry on the team and among the coaches, and the importance of leadership. “If they stand up, we will have an amazing year.”
Then it was time to walk from the auditorium, down Victory Hill, and into the Players Gate, walking in the size 18 footprints of our beloved LSU Tigers, and all those who’ve walked down that hill to Tiger Stadium—LSU’s Death Valley—before them.
Out of yourself and into the team, the lettering on the interior wall of the locker room read, but we were totally “into ourselves” as we explored where the players dress, where they shower. Where they get their pep talk, and where they huddle in the tunnel, a last act reaching up to the “Win” bar to run out onto the field as our Knights of Old, to the adoring cheers of their purple and gold clad fans. We were in the Inner Sanctum of LSU Tigerdom—the player’s locker room.
Coach Miles took his position near the double doors, just to the left of the painted Eye of the Tiger. He watched us, and grinned, occasionally turning toward a camera for a quick picture with a fan. Kathy Miles cheers us on and fires us up: She is our coach tonight, and intends to charge up her Lady Tigers with Fighting Tiger spirit.
There’s a knock on the double doors, and Coach Miles opens it up. “Let’s go,” he yells. And there we go . . . another group of Lady Tigers running out of the chute, and under the goal post and into the bright lights of Tiger Stadium. We are in awe. We pinch ourselves. We laugh. Some lie down, look up, and feel the grassy carpet with perfectly manicured fingers. Some women see loved ones in the stands, cheering us. WISHING they were us.
For about five hours, we were LSU Tiger football players. We wore shoulder pads, official jerseys, eye black, and cradled those gold helmets in our arms . . . with our “teammates” for the day—having the time of our lives. Going where only a select few young men have gone before.