Chris Blair, the radio voice of LSU athletics who replaced Jim Hawthorne, addressed the Ville Platte Rotary Club Tuesday. Pictured here from left to right are Rotary President Richard LeJeune, Chris Blair, and Rotarian Bill Brunet. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
A “blairing” voice
With 40 days to go before a new season of LSU Football begins against Miami, the Voice of the Tigers Chris Blair stopped in Ville Platte Tuesday and addressed the meeting of the Rotary Club before attending a meet-and-greet session at the studios of KVPI radio.
During the meeting at the Family Life Center, Blair expressed that he first fell in love with Louisiana while still being the radio announcer for Georgia Southern University, which is in the Sun Belt Conference with UL-Lafayette and UL-Monroe.
“We used to travel here two or three times a year with Georgia Southern,” he said. “I’d go to Lafayette and Monroe, and then our meetings were at our conference office in New Orleans. I made a lot of trips to Louisiana and I always loved the music, the culture, the food, the lifestyle, and everything about it.”
Blair also said that he knew he was going to accept the job at LSU as soon as he got off the plane before he was offered the job. “I landed at the Baton Rouge airport and was taking I-110 towards campus,” he stated. “I literally called my wife and said that I don’t know anything about the school, I hadn’t met anybody yet, and I’m three minutes out of the parking lot at the airport, but, if they offer me the job, I’m taking it.”
He added, “I then told my wife there was something about driving by the state capital, the skyline I was looking at, the feeling I got, and the smell in the air.”
Blair was offered the job by LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva about two weeks after his initial interview. “As he got off the phone,” Blair said, “he said, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re the first guy ever not from Louisiana who’s going to be calling LSU Football.”
After taking the job and replacing the retired Jim Hawthorne, the job became a privilege for Blair, who is a native of small coal mining town in Eastern Kentucky. As he said Tuesday, “I’m blessed to be able to do this and have a great seat at some of the best venues not only on campus at LSU but at Rupp Arena in Lexington where, as a kid, all of my heroes played for the Kentucky Wildcats. So, to sit courtside at Rupp Arena and call an LSU/Kentucky basketball game is beyond what I ever thought as a little kid growing up in Kentucky.”
Blair then gave his outlook on the upcoming football season. He said that he is more upbeat about the team that was predicted to finish fifth in the SEC West than many of the national writers because he gets to see the team everyday at practice and gets to see the work being done by the coaching staff.
He said, “I think, all things considered, where we are now and where we are headed and what they’ve done might be a good spot for us.”
Much of Blair’s optimism revolves around the defensive unit led by returning starter Devin White. Blair called him “the number one linebacker in the country.”
As far as the rest of the defense, Blair said, “It’s going to be a difficult task with Dave Aranda coaching this defense because, for the first time here, he’s got the horses he needs to run what he wants to run. This year it will all come together, so I think defensively this team is going to be good this year.”
The question marks for the football team, according to Blair, come with the offensive side of the ball. “Everybody wants to know if Joey Burrow is going to be the quarterback that we all want him to be,” he said. “We won’t know that until boot meets ball in Dallas. The bigger question to me is with the skill position players and seeing how they mesh with Joey Burrow should he be the guy that gets the job. I think he will.”
Even with the offensive questions, Blair projects the football team to be a surprise for a lot of people. “Coach (Ed Orgeron) and Coach (Steve) Ensminger are going to do what they’re both comfortable doing and calling plays that they’re both comfortable calling,” said Blair. “I don’t think there will be any second guessing on what we should be doing on offense.”
Blair then gave his impressions on the Tiger basketball team led by second year head coach Will Wade. “Basketball this past season was something to behold, and it’s all built around Will Wade,” he stated. “When they hired Will, he and I went to the basement of The Maravich Center and did an interview. As soon as he walked into the room, I just had this feeling that this guy has got it put together. It didn’t take long traveling with him and going to practice before the season started that that was solidified for me.”
He continued, “This guy is a non-stop worker and a non-stop recruiter. I don’t know of he’s the best coach country, but I know there is no coach in the country who out works him.”
According to Blair, LSU is already starting to see the results since Wade took over for Johnny Jones. “He really took a team without a lot of star power last year and built some excitement and had some big wins over some good teams that went on to play in the NCAA Tournament,” he said.
“This year, he’s got some horses that look a lot like (John) Calipari has had at Kentucky,” Blair continued.
The three freshmen Wade is bringing in are three freshman that Calipari would love to have wearing blue and white. That shows you that the worm has turned, as my grandfather would say, in a positive way with basketball.”
Blair also spoke to the Rotary Club about the baseball Tigers. His remarks came a day after head coach Paul Mainieri first addressed the 2019 team. “If you had a chance to beat the Tigers last year,” Blair said,
I hope you enjoyed it because you probably won’t have the chance this coming year. This may be the most talented team LSU puts on the field in quite a while.”
“Coach Mainieri brought in a couple of signees who had foregone the opportunity to sign at the next level,” he continued. “They are freshmen pitchers who are 6’4” and 6’5” who are expected to make an impact this fall during practice.”
Blair remarked that this signing class complements the players who decided to return to school after being drafted by the major leagues. These players include Antoine Duplantis, Zach Watson, Zack Hess, and Hal Hughes. He added, “Josh Smith will be back who missed the entire year last year due to injury, and Eric Walker, whose prognosis is good, will be back. He was probably the best freshman pitcher in 2017. LSU Baseball is going to be in good shape. It’s going to be a pretty talented group of Tigers out there for the next couple of years.
The Voice of the Tigers ended his talk by again saying how much of a blessing the job is for him. He concluded, “It’s a blessing for me to sit above home plate at (Alex Box Stadium), to sit courtside at The Maravich Center, and, obviously, to sit high above the 50-yard lien at Tiger Stadium. I really love this state, and I really love LSU.”