by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
In the immediate aftermath of former Head Coach Ed Orgeron's firing and Brian Kelly's hiring, it appeared the focus of LSU's new regime was starting to turn as far away from the state of Louisiana as possible, with many legendary & longtime in-state Tiger coaches being replaced by Kelly's Notre Dame staffers, ushering fanbase-wide fears of a complete identity swap.
Would any coaches from Louisiana remain on staff?
Would Kelly even keep LSU's #18 and #7 tradition?
How would he treat NFLSU Tigers returning to LSU Ops?
Would he place a premium on Louisiana talent on the recruiting trail?
During December and early January, I witnessed many intelligent, lifelong Tiger fans worry about all of these traditions becoming lost under a "Kelly identity crisis".
However, those fears couldn't have been more unfounded or ridiculous:
Not only did Brian Kelly beef up one half of his nationally-based staff with overlooked Louisiana luminaries (such as Frank Wilson, Cortez Hankton, Jordan Arcement, Joe Sloan and Sherman Wilson), while retaining Brad Davis & Carter Sheridan, the former Notre Dame man has integrated himself into both Louisiana culture & LSU tradition with full gusto.
Kelly's pursuit of Frank Wilson was highly lauded by many NFL Tigers; after sealing his return from McNeese State, a bevy of legendary Wilson-era LSU heroes vowed to return. Due to these rumblings, a tangible buzz began to grow concerning LSU's new staff forming a bridge to the program's glorious past.
On February 15th, Leonard Fournette arrived on campus, not only to visit with Frank Wilson, his former recruiter, RBs Coach and mentor, "Super Bowl Lenny" hung out alongside LSU's current players, having fun with Tiger running backs and receivers live on Instagram before imparting some wisdom to many 2022 Tigers.
Now, Kelly has upped the ante...calling upon LSU's greatest defensive player of all time & one of the all time greats to ever play at the school, possibly behind only Joe Burrow himself......
Tyrann Mathieu's Monday arrival at LSU wasn't merely an emotional return for the Super Bowl champion & former Heisman / Thorpe candidate, this was time for the Honeybadger himself to educate & inspire every LSU Tiger, coach and fan across the globe.
Watching Tyrann back at LSU, not to mention being there that day ourselves, was historic.
At LSU Ops, Mathieu toured the program's state of the art facility, partially financed by his $1,000,000 donation and finished just prior to the pandemic. Therefore, LSU Ops in its finished state was off limits to all non essential staff until very recently, including Mathieu.
The New Orleans native embraced the man who discovered him, Mr. Frank Wilson, catching up together for some time; Then, TM7 enjoyed a nice introductory meeting with Brian Kelly, the two grinning like old Army buddies after such a short time together; At some point, Mathieu joined fellow LSU Legend Jacob Hester on the Death Valley field for a chat & some epic photo ops; but when he spoke to LSU's current players, chills went down every spine.
Talking cold hard truth about thought process, mentality, representing their community, wearing the purple & gold with pride, Mathieu also discussed how his once wayward path set him astray and nearly cost him everything in 2012: LSU's All-American sophomore was sent packing before his ultimate junior year, curtailing what could've been a Heisman caliber culmination......
As he explained to the next generation, instead of feeling cheated for the rest of his days, Mathieu allowed these rough circumstances to change his life; surrendering unto the help & guidance of others, Tyrann began to dictate his own narrative at the NFL level & defeated every doubt, all on his way to becoming a perennial Pro Bowler & Super Bowl champion during an already storied career (someone hide Brian Polian this week).
Here is the genius of Brian Kelly at work....understanding how respected Mathieu is & how revered he will always be, Kelly chose the true personification of LSU's brand to echo his own message:
Everything about LSU's off-season transformation is rooted in changing the mental mindset & physical conditioning of Brian Kelly's team.....from Jake Flint's ruthless fitness tests to Kelly's S.W.A.T team demanding accountability at every turn, daily well-being surveys, or guest speakers such as Tyrann Mathieu, Kelly's Tigers are reshaping the very essence of how they view themselves.....
After two seasons at / or below .500, surrounded in distraction or scandal, this self esteem boost and focus on psychology wasn't only needed, it was paramount before anything else.....
For that reason, who better to guide current LSU Tigers than Mathieu & Fournette?
Who's more qualified to remind present Tigers where they come from & where they could be going?
Adding another layer to this huge mentality win for LSU as a program?
Mathieu's firm reappearance around LSU is already paying dividends on the recruiting trail, as America's most revered collegiate DB of the 21st century will always attract top talents from every high school in America. His unbreakable ties with LSU, and potential future on Tiger sidelines, is a definitive draw for many a young recruit, hoping to get a chance to meet their favorite player.
But for Mathieu, this was all about his message:
Hitching his celebrated, proven past right in lock step alongside the ethos of LSU's Brian Kelly era, while former Tiger Legends such as Leonard Fournette, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Thad Moss also return to campus, former Tigers are issuing a loud vote of confidence for LSU's new direction forward.....
...And their actions resonate even longer & louder than their powerful words: taking time to appear before our current LSU Tigers, donating their time, money and wisdom to the program....
Brian Kelly's vision may have been about changing LSU for the better, but more than anything, his goal is to restore what made LSU great in the first place:
Belief in one other, belief in ourselves, and belief in the possibilities at LSU.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
RIP AURI "THE FUSS" PHILLIPS-SULLIVAN