NEW ORLEANS -- Greg Studrawa, who found out about three weeks before LSU’s first game this season that he was going to be the one calling offensive plays, had a predictable reaction.
At least, initially.
“Three weeks before the season when we’re supposed to have the year?” Studrawa recalled. “It was unbelievable. You’re like, ‘Whoa!’”
And then, it all began to sink in.
His colleague, Steve Kragthorpe, was stepping down as offensive coordinator and keeping his quarterbacks coach responsibilities after announcing that he had Parkinson’s disease.
“He’s been an inspiration for all of us,” said Studrawa, who came to LSU in 2007 as the Tigers’ offensive line coach. “He never felt sorry for himself, kept his head up and has been a big part of our success.
“I tell people all the time that I was fortunate because I get to call the plays during the game. But we have a lot of guys’ minds in there sharing on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Indeed, Kragthorpe himself is a former head coach at Tulsa and Louisville and was an offensive coordinator at several other stops. Tight ends coach Steve Ensminger was an offensive coordinator at several places, including Clemson and Texas A&M. Receivers coach Billy Gonzales, who also oversees the Tigers’ passing game, was a part of a Florida staff that won two national championships, while running backs coach Frank Wilson was a head coach in high school before stops at Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Tennessee.
“When the change came, Steve [Kragthorpe] opened up. Frank opened up. Steve [Ensminger] opened up. Billy opened up,” Studrawa said. “They all opened up, and it became our offense.”
Kragthorpe said the transition was made so much easier because of the quality of the Tigers’ offensive staff, not to mention Studrawa’s familiarity with LSU coach Les Miles and what Miles wanted in an offense.
“'Stud' is the coordinator, and you’ve got four co-coordinators. Les is the head coordinator,” Kragthorpe said. “We’re all in it together.
“It’s not a room where everybody is sitting around and being told what to do. We have great interaction, and that’s one of the things that helps us on game days. Everybody’s been talking throughout the week, and everybody is on the same page.”
It’s been a special chemistry among the offensive assistants, and Kragthorpe said a lot of that goes back to Miles and the way he does things.
“It’s not a one-man show,” Kragthorpe said. “He’s a very unselfish guy. There’s not one person in our program who’s more important than anybody else, whether it’s your starting quarterback, me or anybody else in our organization.”
The LSU players barely even noticed a blip when the transition went down in August. In fact, junior receiver Rueben Randle said there’s been no difference in his eyes.
“The terminology didn’t change,” Randle said. “It wasn’t like we had to get used to a whole new system. The coaches made it easy for us, and you see the results.”
Studrawa had also called plays as Bowling Green’s offensive coordinator before coming to LSU.
But he said there’s nothing like calling plays for Miles, who earned his “Mad Hatter” nickname thanks to his willingness to try anything on offense and gamble on fourth down.
“We’ll have a critical third-down situation in the game, and he’ll say, ‘Hey, do whatever you want, because I’m going for it [on fourth down].’ And I’m thinking, ‘All right, I can run something here,’” said Studrawa, rubbing his hands together like a kid on Christmas morning.
“But the thing to remember is that they’re calculated risks. You don’t know how many times we practice those things, just like the flip on the fake field goal … no bounce passes, though.”
Obviously, Studrawa was referring to the ball bouncing perfectly to place-kicker Josh Jasper in the Florida game a year ago.
Still, it’s the kind of freedom to call plays that Studrawa loves, especially the way it filters down to the players.
“It’s fun to coach when you know and the kids know, too, that your head coach has no fear,” Studrawa said. “But we don’t draw those things up on Saturday. If you’re pulling them out of your hat up there in the press box, you’re going to be in trouble.”
The ride has been equally exhilarating for Kragthorpe, even if he’s not the one calling plays.
In fact, he was the one who first suggested to Miles that it would probably work best for somebody else to call plays after initially being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in July.
“Two things are really good medicine for me -- winning and laughter,” Kragthorpe said.
He and his wife, Cynthia, have leaned on each other. She suffers from a heart condition and multiple sclerosis. Kragthorpe sat out the 2010 season at Texas A&M, where he was the receivers coach at the time, to take care of his wife.
“A lot of times, Cindy and I laugh with each other or at each other,” Kragthorpe said. “The worst medicine is crying, so you try to avoid that. But she’s doing great and is tough. Her greatest qualities are toughness and unselfishness.
“If I ever want sympathy, I don’t go home to get it.”
The truth is that Kragthorpe has never asked for sympathy. Not once. He’s plowed ahead and fully expects to be back next season in the same capacity.
He figures the worst thing he could do is not coach.
“I do best when I’m on the practice field or at the games. I do the worst when I just have to sit around,” Kragthorpe said. “If I’m moving around, I’m better.”
He also doesn’t want to miss what comes next with this LSU program.
“Les has done a good job of building a program and not just a team, and I think he’s in it for the long haul as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t go to Michigan last year,” Kragthorpe said. “I’m excited about the future here … and not just what happens Monday night.”