Can Mark Emmert Go Home Again?

In a previous life, your author used to publish an LSU sports rag known as Purple & Gold. This happened from 1997 to 2004, during part of which time (1999-2003) Mark Emmert was chancellor at LSU.

We loved Mark Emmert almost to a fault, because he was one of the very few leaders we’ve ever seen in Louisiana who was passionate and determined to make the institution he led perform at its best.

Emmert was, by the estimation of practically everyone associated with the university, the most successful leader LSU ever had. But the events and politics following the 2003 Louisiana gubernatorial election essentially chased him off to the University of Washington, where he spent several years as the president of that institution before being named the head of the NCAA.

Emmert has had, arguably, less success running the show in Indianapolis than he had in three previous jobs running the University of Connecticut, LSU and the University of Washington. The NCAA is facing multiple existential issues that it’s questionable whether anyone at its head can fix, and he hasn’t had much of a handle on them – whether involving the athletes’ ability to profit off their likeness, the complete breakdown of the NCAA’s antiquated rules regarding recruiting in major sports, and now the question of whether to allow the absurdity of biological males competing in women’s sports. On that latter issue the NCAA has taken a strong position in favor, going so far as to threaten conservative states not to pass laws banning men from competing in women’s college sports.

Whether that’s Emmert’s position or one which was imposed on him by the university presidents who make up his membership we don’t know. Perhaps that issue is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and makes him interested in a different job.

And it so happens something akin to Emmert’s old job is open. So perhaps it isn’t a surprise his name is being bandied about as the next president of the LSU system.

Regardless of the official slate of applicants, multiple sources familiar with the situation say back channel but legitimate efforts are under way to try to recruit former LSU Chancellor and current NCAA President and CEO Mark Emmert for the position.

Emmert, who served as chancellor at LSU from 1999 to 2003, is widely considered to be one of the best leaders in the university’s history. He is credited with creating the LSU Flagship Agenda, attracting top-flight faculty and researchers and hiring football coach Nick Saban, who led LSU to its first national championship.

Emmert has close friends in Baton Rouge, including LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward, whose stepson is married to Emmert’s daughter, and LSU booster Richard Lipsey, who recently returned from a wine-tasting trip he and his wife take annually with the Emmerts.

Political strategist and LSU alumnus James Carville, who also considers himself a friend of Emmert, says he has not spoken directly with Emmert about his interest in the position but thinks the 68-year-old is exactly what the university needs in the short term.

“If he came back for three years, it would be great,” Carville says. “We don’t raise enough money. We don’t have access to the big foundations and he’s obviously got tons of experience. … I don’t speak for him but I think he would be a really good choice. We need to crank up the energy level. We need someone with mojo.”

Sources familiar with the situation say the decision will ultimately come down to money. F. King Alexander, LSU’s most recent president, was paid more than $600,000 a year during his seven-year tenure.

Recruiting Emmert for the position would take more than that, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Attempts to reach Emmert through the NCAA were unsuccessful.

Carville, who is known for hyperbole, says he doesn’t know how much it would take to attract Emmert back to LSU but he thinks any amount is worth it.

“If they were paying King $600,000 I think they should pay Emmert $6 million,” he says.

LSU needs a new president because its interim leader, Tom Galligan, has taken his name out of consideration for the job. Which is a good thing since Galligan has been the latest in a string of bad leaders at the top. Under his leadership LSU has turned into little more than a social justice warrior factory, something begun in earnest under his predecessor F. King Alexander, whose career recently imploded following the sexual assault scandal uncovered by the Husch Blackwell report.

There has been buzz emanating from LSU to the effect that the university can’t find anybody willing to fill the job, and that isn’t a surprise. For several reasons this is more or less a dumpster fire of an institution at present. The sexual assault scandal isn’t going away, there is a great deal of fallout among donors given LSU’s openly leftist tilt, the LSU Board of Supervisors’ actions in reaching up to Oregon in an effort to get Alexander fired from his job as president at Oregon State University make for a rather unfriendly atmosphere for a future applicant and the current state of Louisiana politics doesn’t much look favorable toward a productive time at the helm of LSU. It’s very clear the governor’s fingers are all over the university and his allies are embedded everywhere.

It will take a great deal of time and effort to sort out the mess LSU has become. And it will probably take someone of Emmert’s talent and fortitude to pull it off. After all, he did it before.

The problem being that when Emmert was previously at LSU he had William Jenkins as the system president, and Jenkins ran a great deal of interference for him. Emmert also had Mike Foster as the governor, and Foster was committed to raising LSU as a premier southern flagship university. The job he’s currently being recruited for is essentially Jenkins’ position combined with his old job, and while Foster was quite willing to back him in sweeping out a lot of stupid old-school politics John Bel Edwards is the personification of those.

We’d love to see Emmert come back to Baton Rouge. We can’t think of anybody we’d rather have. But we’d be shocked to see him take on the hassle, and what’s more we would have quite diminished expectations that Mark Emmert Redux would be as successful as the original.

It’s very debatable whether you can really go home again. Particularly right now.

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