JACQUES TALK: The Dale Brown/Sue Gunter Debate

Dale Brown Court
Dale Brown Court(Josh Auzenne | WAFB)
Published: Feb. 11, 2023 at 9:45 AM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - First, let me start by saying I am not emotionally invested or honestly all that concerned with this topic. And I feel safe saying most LSU fans probably feel the same way.

The legacies of both Dale Brown and Sue Gunter are both secure and probably won’t change much in the wake of these recent events. My guess is the way fans felt about Brown and Gunter 13 months ago remains somewhat unchanged.

RELATED: LSU Board of Supervisors approves change to Dale Brown/Sue Gunter Court

Ask yourself these two questions: How much has Dale Brown Court resonated since it was officially named two Januarys ago? How often have you heard broadcasters reference it on the air or sportswriters place it in their articles?

I would say not a ton. That’s not an insult to Brown, but I’m just truly wondering - is there really a huge difference between his name being placed on the floor and the banner that hangs from the PMAC rafters above listing his accomplishments?

Former LSU head coach Dale Brown
Former LSU head coach Dale Brown(Josh Auzenne | WAFB)

The same goes for Gunter, who likewise has a banner of her terrific career with the Lady Tigers high above the Deaf Dome floor. Her picture prominently and powerfully can be seen inside the LSU women’s practice facility as well. She does have a statue, but to say that can be misleading, making a person believe it’s of the same scope as the recent Seimone Augustus statue or others outside the LSU practice facility and PMAC. My point is - Sue Gunter certainly hasn’t been ignored or forgotten either.

Former LSU women's basketball head coach Sue Gunter
Former LSU women's basketball head coach Sue Gunter(WAFB)

I have great respect and admiration for both. Dale Brown’s time at LSU was part of my first memories of LSU basketball as a kid in the late 80s. He was a nationally-known celebrity (often said to look like Bob Hope) that fired up sold-out crowds by throwing his sportscoat into the bench and mesmerizing you with his colorful personality during press conferences and television interviews. The superstar players kept rolling into Baton Rouge along with the record-setting attendance numbers, and to this day, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly known as Chris Jackson, might still be my favorite LSU athlete ever. I never had the chance to see Pistol Pete live, but I witnessed the electric “CJ” and it was truly epic.

I never really beat up Brown for not winning a national championship. Was I disappointed when the 1989-90 “Dream Team” of Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, Stanley Roberts, and other talented Tigers like Vernel Singleton failed to reach the Final Four? Sure. But you likewise have to remember college basketball was loaded with superstar teams back then, including the Georgia Tech team that beat LSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Do you remember the UNLV and Duke teams Brown’s squads played back in the day? It was incredible! LSU was viewed as “a football school” where simply making the NCAA Tournament each year (Brown did it 10 straight years at one point) was viewed as a good season. Reaching two Final Fours and two other Elite Eights elevated Brown to superstar status himself. Billy Donovan won two national championships at Florida, another “football school,” so maybe I should’ve expected more.

But I never really lambasted Brown for not beating North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, or whoever the national college basketball power was at that time for a natty. And a small number of social media sportscasters get far too wrapped up in the “he didn’t win a national championship” talk without even knowing what they’re talking about.

Am I saying the PMAC court should be named after Brown? I’m not saying that either.

Did Dale Brown stay too long at LSU? Probably. The Tigers went a combined 45-68 overall during Brown’s last four seasons, with an 18-46 mark in the SEC. That combined with Brown’s initial struggles of trying to make the school relevant in the early 70s place his all-time winning percentage at 59%.

Then, there was the whole Lester Earl fiasco that got LSU hammered by the NCAA and made John Brady’s initial years with the Tigers extremely challenging replacing Brown. I’m aware that Earl recanted later and knowing what goes on and went on in college basketball, well, it is what is.

I always try to remember the good times. Like Ricky Blanton getting the rebound and putback in January of 1989, as LSU beat No. 2 Georgetown in the Superdome before 66,144 fans. That’s right, 66,144 fans for an LSU basketball game.

Former LSU men's basketball head coach Dale Brown
Former LSU men's basketball head coach Dale Brown(Josh Auzenne | WAFB)

I will be painfully honest and tell you I did not grow up going to LSU women’s basketball games. And, if you look at the old footage, not many other people did either.

Which is what makes Sue Gunter’s achievements and career so impressive. She coached a sport in which all involved were basically told “you’re lucky to be here” and “be happy with what you have.” And again, anyone who takes Gunter to task for not winning a national championship when she had basically zero support from the administration in the heyday of Louisiana Tech and Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Lady Vols is off base.

The tragedy is once LSU finally had the roster to indeed win it all, Gunter wasn’t able to coach it. Years of chain smoking made her incredibly weak and unable to lead during the 2003-04 season, in which assistant Pokey Chatman stepped in and led the Tigers to the Final Four with a 15-5 record. Gunter gets credit for that Final Four, which I have no issue with. But the painful truth is she wasn’t there, an important detail in which some have tried to kick past the goalie.

Gunter passed away later at 66 years old. Had she been able to coach into her 70s with Temeka Johnson, Seimone Augustus, and Sylvia Fowles along the way, what would Gunter’s legacy be? Would she have reached the mountain top and won a national championship? Maybe two? We’ll never know.

Chatman, the coach no one is allowed to talk about, is in many ways the most successful coach in LSU women’s history to this point. She was a former All-America point guard with the Tigers and was 47-3 in her first 50 games on the LSU sideline. Chatman’s career record with the Tigers was 90-14, 105-19, including the games she filled in for Gunter. She, in reality, coached LSU to three straight Final Fours.

Bob Starkey did a tremendous job leading LSU to the Final Four as an interim coach, taking over for Chatman as she stepped aside just before the NCAA Tournament began and the Tigers were a No.1 seed in 2007. Van Chancellor, a legendary figure himself, likewise maximized the loaded roster he inherited and took LSU to the 2008 Final Four in Tampa.

But it’s obviously not ridiculous to think Chatman would’ve taken LSU to five straight Final Fours and with the caliber of recruiting the Tigers were having at the time, continued that tremendous run for years and years. And maybe one year Pokey would’ve likewise figured it out and LSU would’ve been national champs. Again, we’ll never know. She is without question one of the biggest “what if” stories in the history of LSU athletics.

I like Pokey Chatman and I enjoyed covering her and those teams. She was always good to us in the media and the LSU fans loved her too. Her career continues to this day as an assistant coach in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm. Chatman has likewise been a head coach and general manager in the WNBA as well. Whatever happened away from the floor happened. Many will tell you there are lines you simply cannot cross and that’s what transpired. In any event, it’s been 16 years since Chatman was forced out and she without a doubt paid a price. On one hand, it’s a tragedy she’s not celebrated more in the proud history of LSU women’s basketball. On the other hand, it’s obviously understandable why she can’t be celebrated and it’s indisputable.

And the whole situation honestly makes me a bit sad.

Former LSU women's basketball head coach Sue Gunter
Former LSU women's basketball head coach Sue Gunter(WAFB)

I only covered Gunter briefly. She was always very sweet and kind. She always answered your questions by using your name, a small but extremely important detail that made this young and insecure sportscaster feel good about himself. She had an amazing career at Stephen F. Austin before coming to LSU - look that up! Her players, without question, loved and adored her as a second mother, maybe even a first in some cases.

And the young men who played for LSU likewise call him “Daddy Dale” for a reason. And when Brown tells me hello and knows my name, I’ll admit the “fanboy” comes out, and in a small way, there’s the feeling I’ve made it.

As I tweeted before, to bring Dale Brown out before a sold-out PMAC crowd, officially name the court after him, and then change it one year later as Brown is 87 years old seems a bit messed up. And even those who played for and knew Sue Gunter seem to agree she would not have wanted things to go down this way. I would tell you the same had they named the court after Gunter a year ago and then added Brown.

Someone needs to stop the ceremony before it gets to the altar. My criticism there was with the process and going through with it, not with who the court is named after.

And ironically, caught in the middle of all this is the icon and current LSU women’s head coach Kim Mulkey, who won three national championships at Baylor and apparently has nothing named after her there in Waco. You would hope that between now and when Mulkey leaves God’s green Earth that would change. It would have to, right?  And what happens if Mulkey wins one or more national championships at LSU?

Man, let’s punt on that discussion for another day. We’ve got much bigger fish to fry at the moment, starting with the huge LSU at South Carolina game in Columbia on Sunday, Feb. 12.

The bottom line - call the PMAC court what you want.

Dale Brown’s and Sue Gunter’s legacies are secure and unchanged with me.

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