LSU Football & Van Halen: Rock Gods

By Jacques Doucet - bio | email


They were giants worshipped by the fans and they knew it. They were egotistical maniacs who devoured those who stood in their way. They intimidated their peers and likewise many members of the press. They were extremely hard to work with, even harder to work against. They were driven, relentless, extremely image conscious and yes, highly intelligent. Throw out the spandex and eyeliner and they are very much the same man. Meet the Rock Gods …. David Lee Roth and Nick Saban.

In 1984 David Lee Roth was arguably the biggest rock star in the world. With his good looks, larger-than-life personality, gravel voice and acrobatic splits Van Halen reached the pinnacle of their commercial success. Behind the band's first (and to this day only) #1 hit "Jump", the album 1984 went on to sell over 10 million copies and launched VH into an amazing, new stratosphere. MTV played their videos like the tape machine was broken and Roth's mug was all over the screen. Hold that thought for a moment …

Roughly 20 years later Nick Saban was the DLR of college football. His band was kicking some serious butt too. Instead of leaping from the top of drum risers, Saban thrilled his fans by throwing headsets and screaming at people. "I love it when he does that", fans would often tell me. "Yeah, cause he's not yelling at you", I thought to myself. Like Roth, Saban sure had the movie star looks. Women loved him, men in purple shorts wanted to be him. Fans were hanging from the ceiling at the Superior Grill for his weekly radio show for crying out loud! There sat the Messiah, next to Jim Hawthorne and some chips and salsa. "L-S-U" chants rained down and fans were so awestruck they stared at him like teenage girls now stare at Justin Bieber. What should have been somewhat mundane, was pure madness and excitement. "Look at all the people here tonight!", indeed. And they were all there to see the coach. Saban's #1 act rose to the top of the charts by defeating traditional powerhouse Oklahoma for the National Championship. It was LSU's first national title in roughly 50 years, as grown men in their 50's cried. The world, clearly, was in Nick Saban's hand. He had resurrected the dead. He could have stayed in Baton Rouge forever. Now, hold THAT thought for a moment …

Roth and Saban were also not the official bosses of their respected outfits, yet they called all the shots. Van Halen was Eddie's band (it's named after him and his brother/drummer Alex, duh!). Yet despite being the most amazing guitarist on the planet, EVH was amazingly timid, shy and insecure. Because of that he suffered through years of alcohol abuse and really played no large part in band decisions. He simply wrote and played their brilliant music, obviously the most important of contributions. Roth meanwhile basically dictated everything. He told the band what to wear for their photo shoots and videos. He chose the artwork for all the album covers. He lied about the age of the band members to make them younger. He told Eddie not to marry sweetheart Valerie Bertinelli because it would hurt Van Halen's rock cred. He even prevented "Jump" from being released for years, because Roth said, "no one wants to see a rock god play keyboards".

Likewise, Saban was technically not the boss at LSU. Really?!! Wow … he had all of us fooled. While Skip Bertman was officially the Athletic Director, Saban answered to Bertman about as much as Tony Soprano answered to Uncle June. Fuh-get about it! What Nick wanted, he got. A brand new, multi-million dollar, immaculate fortress used almost solely by his program known as "The Football Operations Building" (Often referred to as "SabanLand" or these days "Area 51")? You got it! Another multi-million dollar, towering palace next to Tiger Stadium called "The Cox Communications Building For Student Athletes"? Sure! And what about a new "Tradition Fund" that will stick it to all the fans, by raising their ticket prices exponentially to pay for the first two things I talked about? Sounds good Nick! This guy rammed through a lot of stuff ... however, it all benefited the LSU program tremendously.

Now back to those thoughts you're holding. Just when David Lee Roth and Nick Saban had it all, they got bored, restless and wanted more. They needed a new challenge, a new thrill, a new rush. You could say Roth wanted to be Ozzy … you know, breakaway from his band and make it big on his own. It was the dream of enjoying success similar to that of modern day solo smashes Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé. Nick Saban meanwhile wanted to be Jimmy Johnson … prove he could win a Super Bowl, just like he'd won a college national championship. So the two super stars both turned their backs on the powerhouses that had made them famous to begin with. Don't forget … not many of you had ever heard of Nick Saban before he arrived at LSU (We're giving WHO 1.2 million dollars?!!) and certainly no one knew of David Lee Roth before Van Halen. Regardless, they had their fill of their respective organizations and were ready to bounce. So they did. And for years … both would truly regret it.

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