Remembering former LSU coach Paul Dietzel

In his lifetime, Paul Dietzel was a World War II bomber pilot, an offensive lineman, an accomplished artist, college administrator, a husband and father, and even wrote the University of South Carolina’s fight song.

But as far as how he will be best remembered, the title of Dietzel’s 2008 autobiography said it best:

“Call Me Coach.”

Dietzel, the innovative and charismatic leader of LSU’s first modern day national championship football team and its last undefeated season, died Tuesday at the age of 89.

Services for Dietzel, who died at Baton Rouge General Medical Center Mid-City after a brief illness from a blood disorder, are scheduled for Friday at First United Methodist Church, 930 North Blvd. in Baton Rouge.

Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. in the church’s Ory Parish Hall, followed at 11 a.m. by the service in the sanctuary. Burial will occur in a private ceremony later in the afternoon, the church announced.

Dieztel died one day short of his 69th anniversary with his wife Anne, who survives him along with son Steve, daughter Kathie Dietzel DuTremble, daughter-in-law Judy Dietzel, and two grandsons, David DuTremble and Paul Dieztel II. The latter is a candidate for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District seat.

After Dietzel’s death, tributes began to flow.

“He loved this school, and he loved his association with our team,” LSU coach Les Miles said after his team’s Tuesday practice. “He was a very, very special man. Tiger Nation will miss him, and I’ll miss him.”

When asked if LSU would honor Dietzel with a sticker on the team’s helmets, Miles said, “I think we will.”

Dietzel coached at LSU from 1955 through the 1962 Orange Bowl, compiling a 46-24-3 record. In 1958, he led the Tigers from being unranked in the preseason to a perfect 11-0 record, culminating with LSU’s first national championship.

“Coach Dietzel was a man of great honor and integrity,” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said in a written statement. “His 1958 national championship set LSU on a path of being what it is today. We will be forever grateful for coach Dietzel and what he meant to this university.”

Dietzel popularized the Wing-T offense and used the strict substitution rules of the day to his advantage. He named his third-string defensive unit the Chinese Bandits after characters from a comic strip called “Terry and the Pirates.”

In 1959, Dietzel led LSU to its epic 7-3 Halloween night triumph over Ole Miss, a victory marked by Billy Cannon’s legendary 89-yard punt return that cemented his push to become the Tigers’ only Heisman Trophy winner.

Dietzel coached LSU to a 10-1 record and the 1961 Southeastern Conference title, stepping down after a 25-7 win over Colorado in the 1962 Orange Bowl to fulfill a long-time ambition to become the coach at Army, where he had served as an assistant.

Dietzel’s stay at West Point lasted only four seasons. After the 1965 campaign, he became head coach and athletic director at South Carolina.

The Gamecocks’ first game under Dietzel in 1966 was at LSU, a game he approved while the Tigers’ coach as a “breather” for his team. LSU won 28-12 under former Dietzel assistant Charles McClendon.

Dietzel stayed at South Carolina though 1974, leading the Gamecocks to their only conference title: the 1969 Atlantic Coast Conference championship. He served as commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference and athletic director at Indiana before returning to LSU as athletic director in 1978.

He hired Charles “Bo” Rein to succeed McClendon in 1979, but Rein died in a plane crash on Jan. 10, 1980. Dietzel quickly moved to hire one of his star players, 1962 Heisman Trophy runner-up Jerry Stovall.

Dietzel was reassigned within the university in 1982 amid allegations that the athletic department was running an unchecked budget deficit. In 1983, Dietzel went to Samford University for two years to oversee the start of its new athletic program.

He and Anne split their retirement years between Baton Rouge and Beech Mountain, N.C., before retiring permanently to Baton Rouge in 2003.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, the Dietzel family has requested that donations be made to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Baton Rouge chapter.

Advocate sportswriter Les East contributed to this report.