Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist a year ago and the most dynamic player on LSU’s preseason No. 1-ranked football team, was permanently dismissed from the Tigers on Friday — bringing to an end a career that lasted only two years but was easily one of the most colorful in school history, teeming with big highlights, a catchy nickname and slices of controversy.
LSU coach Les Miles said the dismissal of Mathieu, a junior defensive back/punt returner from New Orleans, was for “violation of team policy.” Neither Miles nor athletic director Joe Alleva, who both spoke at a brief midday news conference, said which policy was violated by Mathieu, who was held out of a game against Auburn last season for a violation that was widely reported to be a second failed drug test.
“I’m not going to confirm or deny either one,” Alleva said.
Several media outlets, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune and ESPN, citing unnamed sources Friday, reported that Mathieu’s dismissal was the result of another failed drug test.
Miles and Alleva said the violation was of both athletic department and university policy.
According to the Associated Press, school policy allows for a player to lose his scholarship even without another positive test if he does not fulfill all the terms of university probation.
“We have a simple policy here of behavior,” Miles said. “The consequences are pretty spelled out and defined. We did what we could do.”
Mathieu’s dismissal came on the ninth day of a quiet preseason camp that LSU hoped would be much smoother than the one the team endured a year ago, when offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, wide receiver Russell Shepard was declared ineligible for the first three games, and quarterback Jordan Jefferson and linebacker Josh Johns were arrested after a bar fight, which happened after numerous players broke curfew.
Alleva said Mathieu’s fate was determined Thursday night and Mathieu was informed of his dismissal and the revocation of his athletic scholarship at a meeting Friday morning that Miles called “difficult at best.”
Both Alleva and Miles said LSU tried to help Mathieu, who had been made off-limits to the media all summer until the school held its media day on Tuesday.
Miles said, “We extended ourselves to the full length of the policy.”
Alleva said, “We do everything we can to help these kids. He’s had help, and we’ve been trying to help him all along with everything.”
“Being an athlete is a privilege, and you have to follow the rules to take advantage of that privilege,” Alleva said. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t have that privilege here anymore. He really is a good kid. It’s a shame.
“I told him that he has the rest of his life. His life is still ahead of him, and he still has a tremendous opportunity to do good things, and I encouraged him to do those good things, and I think he will.”
Mathieu has two years of eligibility remaining, but if he were to transfer to another Football Bowl Subdivision school, he would have to sit out this season to become eligible in 2013. He could transfer to a lower-division program and become eligible right away.
“I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t want to transfer and go play football,” Miles said. “As talented as he is, I would think that would be a natural direction for him. I think he would be interested in playing right away.”
Former Tigers place-kicker Josh Jasper, a teammate of Mathieu’s two years ago, tweeted late Friday that Mathieu had “already transferred to McNeese (State University),” but McNeese spokesman Matthew Bonnette called that “speculation.”
McNeese is a Football Championship Subdivision school. Mathieu would be immediately eligible should he transfer to an FCS school.
“I think he has a real unique strength,” Miles said. “I really think that this could be a redirect that would benefit him greatly. I think he can really accomplish all the goals that he set for himself. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be doable.”
Late Friday, Mathieu, who is known for being a prolific on Twitter and has 148,346 followers at @TM7_Era, posted a tweet thanking LSU fans and wishing his former teammates good luck:
“So grateful for LSU & it’s fans!! I wish those guys the best on their National title run... I’ll be you guys biggest fan. Jeremiah 29:11.”
The Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The loss of Mathieu is a double blow to LSU. Last season, he won the Bednarik Award for best defensive player in the country, and he was one of the top special-teams players, as well, returning two punts for touchdowns in 2011.
Whoever replaces Mathieu will be inexperienced at the college level. The next cornerback in line is redshirt freshman Jalen Collins, and true freshmen Jalen Mills, Dwayne Thomas and Derrick Raymond also are potentially in the mix.
Miles said starting wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who averaged 8.6 yards on nine punt returns as Mathieu’s backup last season, would replace Mathieu as a returner.
“We’ll miss the guy,” Miles said, “but just like with an injury, the football team has to go on and fill the void. We have good players.”
Mathieu, who became a national phenomenon last season for his spectacular play and catchy nickname — “The Honey Badger,” named for a feisty, furry animal that “takes what he wants” — played in 26 games for the Tigers during his two years. He made 133 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss and four interceptions. He also forced an LSU career-record 11 fumbles and recovered eight fumbles.
“He’s a quality, quality guy who had a behavior issue,” Miles said. “Certainly, the overview of his time with us is positive.”
Mathieu, the most sought-after interviewee on the LSU team, was placed off-limits to the media by Miles throughout the summer and didn’t speak until Media Day on Tuesday. Miles said he had to manage the “Honey Badger” hype that has enveloped Mathieu for the past 10 months.
When he spoke with reporters Tuesday, Mathieu talked excitedly about trying to help the Tigers get back to the BCS National Championship Game, where they lost to Alabama 21-0 last season.
But now the Tigers will pursue a return trip, as well as a second consecutive Southeastern Conference championship, without one of their leaders and their most recognizable star.
“This is a hard day,” Alleva said. “This is one of the hardest things you have to do in this business, because what I like about athletics is giving opportunities to kids. I don’t like it when an opportunity is taken away, and his opportunity at LSU has been taken away.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking, because he’s a good kid, but he broke the rules so he has to pay the price for it.”
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