This is the fourth in a series of six stories profiling the members of the 2009 class of the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
LSU Sports Information
To many LSU fans, the 20th century of Tiger athletics is highlighted by the 1958 football national championship, NCAA Final Four appearances in 1981 and 1986 and a decade of dominance during the 90s in baseball and women’s track and field.
Names like Dale Brown, Skip Bertman and Charles McClendon often come up in conversation about the great coaches in LSU history. But the first half of the 20th century is often forgotten and one name from that time stands tall: the second-winningest coach in LSU history, former basketball and baseball head coach Harry Rabenhorst.
Rabenhorst will be inducted into this year’s LSU Athletics Hall of Fame along with five other legends on that night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Other inductees include legendary football and track coach Bernie Moore, long-time LSU trainer Dr. Martin J. Broussard (profile), track and field Olympian Esther Jones (profile), football great Anthony McFarland (profile) and softball All-American Britni Sneed.
Tuesday night's 2009 LSU Hall of Fame Banquet is sponsored by Moniotte Investments, Deumite Construction, and Rabenhorst Funeral Homes.
From 1925-57, Rabenhorst won a combined 560 games as head coach of both the men’s basketball and baseball teams and also served as an assistant coach on the football team from 1925-42. He followed his coaching career by moving into athletic administration at LSU, serving as an assistant athletic director from 1947-67 then as acting athletic director in 1968.
“Coach Raby was revered and respected nationally by the many who came to know him in the world of intercollegiate athletics,” said former LSU coach and athletic director Carl Maddox in 1973. “But more significant is the esteem and the love he earned from the men who played for him. He was a great force for good and LSU is better for having had Coach Raby.”
A Baton Rouge native, Rabenhorst began his collegiate athletics career at Wake Forest, where he played four sports in the years immediately following World War I. His best sport was football and he served as captain of the team his last three years and served as a coach during his junior and senior seasons. A running back for the Demon Deacons, Rabenhorst also earned All-State and All-South Atlantic honors as a junior and a senior. His most memorable moment at Wake Forest came when he booted a punt 110 yards during a Thanksgiving Day game against North Carolina State in 1919, a world record that still stands today. His future, however, was in coaching – in addition to coaching on the football staff Rabenhorst was also a track and field coach each of his four years at Wake Forest.
After his playing days and academic career at Wake Forest had finished, Rabenhorst served in the Navy in World War I and officially began his coaching career upon his return home. His first stop was Greensboro (N.C) High School in 1921. After a year, he moved to New Mexico Military Academy for three years before finally returning to his native Baton Rouge to join LSU in 1925. For the next 32 years, Rabenhorst coached every baseball and basketball team at LSU, except for his years of service in the Navy during World War II.
As head coach of the LSU baseball team, Rabenhorst won 220 games, highlighted by SEC Championships in 1939 and 1946. Alex Box Stadium is named in honor of the former LSU outfielder that played for Rabenhorst in 1942. LSU’s 1939 SEC title was the first baseball title in school history and came during one of the finest seasons for the program. That year, LSU posted a 22-5 record and had a 13-game winning streak. For all he did in baseball, however, Rabenhorst is most remembered for his work as head basketball coach.
In 29 years at the helm for the Tigers, Rabenhorst went 340-264. He won SEC Championships in 1935, 1953 and 1954 to go along with a “mythical” national championship in 1935 and a NCAA Final Four 1953, LSU’s first Final Four appearance.
While the championships he helped earn will always be a part of LSU history, it was the players that Rabenhorst recruited to LSU and the way he taught them that truly made his tenure special.
“I have never known a coach with more humility and gentle feeling toward his players than Coach Rabenhorst,” said the late former LSU football head coach Charles McClendon. “In trying times he knew how to keep your spirits up.”
Rabenhorst’s talent for teaching players shows through in the list of LSU greats that played for him during his coaching career.
Malcolm “Sparky” Wade, LSU’s first All-American, helped lead the Tigers to the 1935 “mythical” national championship by averaging 12.7 points per game, one of the best averages in the SEC that season. Rabenhorst helped bring the Jena native to LSU in 1931.
Two other first-team All-Americans played for Rabenhorst at LSU, and one is remembered at both the professional and collegiate levels as one of the greatest basketball players of the 20th Century.
A native of Baton Rouge, Bob Pettit chose to attend LSU over a few dozen other schools. At the start of his career as a Tiger, Pettit didn’t quite exude greatness. A self-described “goon” as a freshman, Pettit’s review of his ability that season wasn’t exactly outstanding.
“My reflexes were slow. I was lost on defense. I didn’t know how to drive in for a shot, or fake and pass off the pivot,” he said.
Needless to say, LSU coaches, led by Rabenhorst, were able to teach Pettit a thing or two about the game of basketball. During an era when freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity, Pettit was a three-time first-team All-SEC selection that led the league in scoring all three years. LSU won SEC titles in both his junior and senior seasons, making its first Final Four appearance during his junior year in 1953. Rabenhorst called Pettit “the best player at LSU since Sparky Wade.”
“Those were great years at LSU,” Pettit said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better than my four years at LSU. I received my degree in Business, played the sport I loved and made so many friends.”
After retiring from coaching in 1957, Rabenhorst became a full-time Assistant Athletic Director, a position he had held while coaching since 1947. Twenty years later, Rabenhorst was name Acting Athletic Director while the LSU Board of Supervisors searched for the next Athletic Director, eventually choosing Carl Maddox. Rabenhorst retired in 1968 after 43 years of service to LSU and has been inducted into both the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame.
“Coach Rabenhorst was a giant among men,” said the late former SEC Commissioner A.M. Coleman upon Rabenhorst’s death in 1973. “ He came as close to meeting every ideal that we hope for in those who coach our young men as any person I’ve ever known. His many contributions and good influence in athletics are now a legacy that has become a part of the great traditions and heritage of the athletic world.”
On March 10, Rabenhorst will join five other Tiger greats as they are inducted into the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame. The six 2009 inductees are Rabenhorst, former LSU football player Anthony “Booger” McFarland, former softball player Britni Sneed, former track and field sprinter Esther Jones, former athletic trainer Martin J. “Doc” Broussard and former coach and athletic director Bernie Moore.