The mechanics of his brain would not allow him to be content, even as the hoots and hollers echoed into the sky. The players stepped out of the confines of the team bus and were met with a sea of thrilled fans. Finally, they were champions.
Though the pride in Skip Bertman’s voice was unmistakable when speaking about his LSU baseball players, the 1991 College World Series Champions, it did not mean that his work was accomplished. Sure, the festivities were exuberating, but he was not necessarily interested in them. To the coach, it simply meant that another year was in the books. Sure, it had a hell of an ending, but to Bertman it was simply that: an ending. A new chapter was emerging—had already begun—even if Bertman was the only one that was watching it this soon. He had fought and scraped his way to the top, but sustaining it would prove to be a tenacious battle.
Skip Bertman achieved incomparable success as the head baseball coach at LSU–a dynasty. Today, that word is thrown around when describing Nick Saban and Lebron James. It is used to describe the undisputable success that a person or program has managed to sustain for long periods of time. It means championships, plural. One of the most prevalent names in the 1990s that was often followed by this word was Bertman, who won 5 national championships with LSU baseball.
Bertman took control of a mediocre team in 1984. Prior to this, he only had experience as a head coach—at the high school level—and as an assistant at the University of Miami. Strange as it may seem, this hire was not seen as much of a risk for LSU. Previous teams had success in the past, but memories of the legendary Harry Rabenhorst and the other many great coaches were beginning to feel like ages ago. The Tigers had not won an SEC Championship in 9 years when Bertman took the job. He was certainly a well-regarded coach, but there was no way to predict that he would turn the program into the absolute powerhouse that LSU baseball became.
The new coach began winning immediately. In only his second season, the Tigers made postseason play. It was LSU’s first postseason appearance in a decade.
The very next year, Bertman’s squad made school history. For the first time, the Tigers earned a spot in the College World Series. This became a pattern for the program. Later it became an expectation.
In 1991, the Tigers would bring home their first national championship in the sport of baseball. Only two years later, in 1993, the Tigers won the CWS again. Back-to-back championships in ’96 and ’97 solidified Bertman as one of the greatest college baseball coaches of his era and LSU baseball as a dynasty.
After his final national championship in 2000, Bertman retired a year later. He would serve as athletic director for the university until 2008.
In his 18 years as the head coach, he collected 870 wins, 7 SEC Championships, and 5 College World Series Championships. He is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college sports.
Today, Bertman is 79 years old. He remains active in the world of sports, constantly giving his opinions on modern sports figures or inspiring the world with his testimonies and stories.
He does not consider himself to be a legend. Instead, he is humbled by the work of other coaches and players who have also impacted the game. When inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame, he warm-heartedly said, “I’m honored to be on this list for the official College Baseball Hall of Fame. The coaches on this list laid the groundwork for what college baseball is today. Being mentioned with those men means a lot to me.”
Those men must be equally honored to be mentioned with him as well.
Most coaches win and lose focus. Learning how to sustain a program at such a high level is a lesson that few have had the opportunity to experience. Luckily for the LSU Tigers, they had one of the brightest and most determined men to ever coach America’s pastime.
Bertman’s retirement includes being surrounded with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Hopefully, the coach can now be content. H&A
Cover photo courtesy LSU Athletics.
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