LSU Short Story
Huey Long Wasn't Only Governor Who Delved into LSU Football
From Robert Mann, Kingfish U: Huey Long and LSU (2023)
In late 2019, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards was in a tough runoff against his Republican challenger. Edwards was a conservative Democrat who some believe won his first race because a sex scandal had weakened his opponent. Now, as the incumbent, he was in a stronger position. But Louisiana was a Republican state, and he needed help. So he turned to the popular LSU football coach, Ed Orgeron.
Edwards and Orgeron first met two years earlier at a duck-hunting camp near the coach's birthplace in Lafourche Parish. The football coach and the governor became fast friends. Edwards invited Orgeron and his wife to functions at the Governor's Mansion. And the former Amite High School quarterback began attending LSU team practices, where he tossed the ball with players and delivered pep talks. He boasted about texting so often with Orgeron that he could predict the quality of LSU's performance by the tone of the coach's pregame messages. The two men were so friendly that, by April 2019, Orgeron introduced Edwards at a political event. Orgeron's praise for Edwards angered Republican Louisiana US Senator John N. Kennedy, who denounced the coach's venture into politics.

L: John Bel Edwards and Ed Orgeron. R: Les Miles and Bobby Jindal
Those steeped in Louisiana political history noted it was not the first mingling of Louisiana politics and LSU football. Edwards's predecessor, Bobby Jindal, embraced Orgeron's predecessor, Les Miles. In fact, Jindal intervened in 2015 to save Miles's job when LSU's athletic director considered firing the coach. Jindal tweeted that his friend was "a great coach and a better man. He is a fantastic ambassador for our state. I hope he remains our coach." Miles's position was secure for a few more years. Days later, when Jindal held a fundraiser for his presidential campaign, a grateful Miles attended.
Several generations earlier, in 1977, Governor Edwin Edwards had resisted being drawn into the politics of LSU football. He implored fans to stop demanding he fire Coach Charles McClendon. "I don't have the power to hire or fire a coach," Edwards said, "and even if I did, I would not involve myself. So don't call me." In 1983, before he began his third term, however, Edwards finally succumbed to the temptation to meddle with LSU football. He announced an ill-conceied, short-lived plan for a $1 million trust fund to supplement the LSU coach's salary. Some suspected a plot to push out then-coach Jerry Stovall for a higher-profile candidate. Whatever the case, LSU officials rejected Edwards's idea. When the university fired Stovall six years later, his foremost defender was LSU Board member and former governor John McKeithen.

L-R: Edwin Edwards, Charlie McClendon, Jerry Stovall, John McKeithen
Louisiana governors, before Edwards, trumpeted their love for LSU and its football team in other ways. Governor Jimmie Davis watched LSU football games from the sidelines. Earl Long, Davis, and McKeithen all recruited football prospects. McKeithen, an LSU graduate, enjoyed being called "Coach" for his devotion to the players. The top recruits during his two terms in the 1960s often went to the Governor's Mansion, where "Big John" feted them with a hearty breakfast. "If they ask mah help, I give it fast," McKeithen explained when asked about his role with the team. "If Charlie Mac [McClendon] wants me to talk to a boy, I'm on the phone to his mommy and daddy one minute after the coach hangs up." McKeithen was so upset by the Tigers' 1970 loss to Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium that he reportedly punched out a window in his state car. McKeithen's political mentor, Earl Long, basked in the reflected glory of LSU football by holding his 1948 inauguration in Tiger Stadium. Long assured the crowd he would make LSU "the finest [university] in the country, with the best football team and band." That night, Long hosted his inaugural ball in the LSU Colliseum.