With a room full of LSU fans hanging on his every word, Paul Mainieri targeted one specific member of his audience: new football offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe.
“Steve, there’s not much pressure to coach here,” the baseball coach said jokingly as he spoke Thursday during the final stop of LSU Tiger Tour 11. “I don’t know if anybody told you.”
Kragthorpe, making his one and only appearance on the 11-city summer tour, followed Mainieri’s audible with an ad lib of his own.
“Really?” Kragthorpe said in mock astonishment when it was his turn in the spotlight. “I haven’t felt that (pressure) at all.”
Hundreds of LSU supporters jammed into the banquet hall at the Lod Cook Alumni Center on campus to get a first-hand glimpse of the coaches they hope will be helping lead LSU’s football and baseball teams to greatness in the 2011-12 athletic year.
Kragthorpe, who replaces Gary Crowton as LSU’s play caller, spoke of his one game experience in Tiger Stadium. It was in 1995 when he was offensive coordinator at North Texas.
The Tigers routed the Mean Green that night, 49-7.
“I said, ￔI want to be on that other sideline,’ “ Kragthorpe recalled.
“I can’t wait to come to Tiger Stadium, but I’m excited about that first game in Dallas.”
That would be LSU’s highly anticipated Sept. 3 season opener against Oregon in the Cowboys Classic.
First will be a month of practices beginning Aug. 4. Kragthorpe is just as eager to see what his veterans have retained from spring practice and how the Tigers’ recruits look.
“The reports I get from the players are very positive,” Kragthorpe said, “and yet I kind of want to see it myself. I want to see how far we’ve come in those four months (since the spring) and ascertain the things we need to do to get to where we need to be pretty quickly. Twenty-nine practices are going to go by pretty fast.”
Not surprisingly, Kragthorpe fielded a question about LSU’s three-man quarterback race with seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee and sophomore transfer Zach Mettenberger.
“We’re going to play all three at the same time,” Kragthorpe said with a smile. “That should appease everyone.
“I’m not opposed to a multiple quarterback system. But it’s hard to get more than one or two quarterbacks ready every week with this 20-hour rule. If we had a 20-hour rule when I was playing, we would have played the games on Wednesday.”
As has been the case with head coach Les Miles in his offseason speaking engagements, Kragthorpe lavished praise on Jefferson.
“He’s very coachable,” he said. “He’s hungry to learn. He’s very unselfish. He wants to have a great year, not only for himself but to lead this team to greatness. To leave a legacy like guys like (Matt) Mauck did and (Matt) Flynn did.”
Kragthorpe added that Lee has dropped from 230 to 207 pounds - “it’s made him more athletic” - and Mettenberger late in the spring appeared to find a better grasp on his third offensive system in three years.
“I’ve got a very luxurious position as the quarterback coach,” Kragthorpe said. “I’ve got three guys who can all perform at a high level.”
Mainieri spent his summer still simmering over the fact his team didn’t receive an NCAA tournament at-large berth and monitoring the progress of his drafted players.
Fourteen recruits and players with remaining eligibility were drafted this year.
Mainieri said eight are solid to play for LSU in 2012, four are gone or will sign and two more are up in the air.
One of those two is All-American center fielder Mikie Mahtook, a first-round pick who has yet to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays.
“We’re lighting candles every day,” joked Mainieri, although he admitted he expects Mahtook to turn pro.
Mainieri is still holding out a shred of hope for outfielder/pitcher Jake Cave, a sixth-round pick by the New York Yankees.
“I think Jake will let us know by Sunday,” Mainieri said. “As the summer wore on there was some optimism - the Yankees only paid their first-round pick $750,000.
“It’s a matter of whether the Yankees will pay him more than their first-round pick. I’m starting to think they will.”
Mainieri said he would liked to have gotten Cave, signee John Eierman (fourth round, Tampa Bay) or Trevor Story (compensatory pick, 45th overall, Colorado Rockies), but that overall the news has been good.
Three senior infielders - Austin Nola, Raph Rhymes and Tyler Hanover - will return. LSU also held onto Nola’s younger brother Aaron out of Catholic High, who Mainieri said will vie with fellow freshman Nick Goody to be LSU’s closer.
“You take the good with the bad,” said Mainieri, who’s preparing for his sixth season at LSU. “If we hold onto eight drafted players, I don’t see how you can’t call that a successful summer.”