Breaux reflects on 37 years of gymnastics at LSU

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD --  LSU coach D-D Breaux talks to Sydney Ewing after her beam routine earlier this season in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- LSU coach D-D Breaux talks to Sydney Ewing after her beam routine earlier this season in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

In 37 years, the longest tenure for a head coach in LSU history, D-D Breaux has seen it all. She’s seen dozens of head coaches (perhaps hundreds) come and go, the demise of men’s gymnastics at the school, and almost saw her program become extinct because of budgetary issues in the early 1980s. The thing she hasn’t witnessed is an NCAA championship for her team, which she hopes to change this season. The top-ranked Tigers compete Friday in the national semifinals in Birmingham, Ala. Breaux recently sat down with The Advocate to talk about the past, present and future of the program.

You spent three weeks atop the GymInfo polls this season, and you’re again No. 1 going to nationals. You have some nationally ranked athletes like Rheagan Courville, Jessie Jordan, Sarie Morrison and Lloimincia Hall, of course, but what has made this year so special?

This team is different because they’ve embraced the message. They’ve worked hard at not having clutter and not having distractions in team chemistry and what it takes to have that unified front. That’s an important footprint for a team, and this team has been steady in its work ethic and unified in its goals and the message they give to each other.

You seem to have a complete team this season after some years where you were lacking on either bars or beam. Is this the most talented and most consistent team you’ve ever had across the four events?

We’ve had some missing links. But this group is kind of complete. From the coaches, to the athletes, all the way down to the trainer — it’s the best group we’ve had. Everything is just unified; it’s been very good.

Going into this season, LSU had never topped the 198-point mark. They’ve done it twice in five weeks with a school-record 198.325 in the NCAA regionals on April 5, which was the highest score of the 12 teams to qualify for Friday’s semifinals. What was the key to getting over that hump?

I think back to so many conversations and so many messages listening to Skip (Bertman). He always said you have to have the right team chemistry, and the stars have to be aligned ... everything has to be right that day. The message has to be consistent, and they have to be relaxed and believe in the work we’ve done. They have to believe it’ll come true if it’s supposed to.

When you got this job back in 1978, could you have ever believed you would keep it for 37 years — and counting?

There were some times I didn’t want to be here, and that’s not good. But I’m a fighter ... I fight. I was one of eight kids in my family, and I’ve always believed that there are a lot of battles worth fighting.

What were they like?

If it weren’t for people like (former LSU administrators) Bill Bankhead, Ernie and Kathy Hill and Pat Newman, we wouldn’t have women’s gymnastics. There were a couple of athletic directors that were going to drop it in a heartbeat.

How close was it to happening?

Paul (Dietzel) was going to drop it, and we fought like hell and won ... and he wasn’t very happy about it. The next guy (Bob Brodhead) was going to drop it, too, but everything changed with Title IX. There was nothing they could do, and we were here to stay.

We had to fight Paul pretty hard. He called me to come across the street to his office to tell me he was dropping it, and I refused to go. Pat Newman called and said, “Don’t come over here.” I didn’t, and I’m still here. I really loved Paul; he was such a gentleman and a class act. He was just trying to do what he had to do because the university had no money. He had to make the bottom line look right, but a battle is a battle. There were a lot of uphill battles, but a lot of people lined up with me in the trenches and supported gymnastics.

You look like you still love fighting those battles, especially in trying to overtake SEC schools like Georgia, Alabama and Florida that have won multiple NCAA titles with more tools. How long do you plan on coaching?

We’re hopefully going to break ground in June on a new gymnastics practice facility (behind the basketball practice facility), and I want to coach in that building. The goal is to be practicing in there in the fall of 2015, so that would be sweet. But I’m not putting a (retirement) date on it because I still enjoy what I do.