LSU’S Kragthorpe battles adversity
Assistant coach carries on despite Parkinson’s diagnosis, wife’s MS
BATON ROUGE — Dave Kragthorpe can tell his son, Steve, all about the travails of the coaching life — moving, losing, pressure and, finally, getting fired.
He cannot tell him, though, how to deal with Parkinson’s disease, which is what LSU offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, 46, was diagnosed with last month. Kragthorpe stepped down from his coordinator and playcalling duties and will remain quarterbacks coach while he tries to cope with a degenerative disorder of the nervous system that has no cure.
“ I never had any serious health issues — just the normal dodging bullets with the public and alumni,” said the elder Kragthorpe, 78, who won a Division I-AA title at Idaho State in 1981 but was fired at Oregon State after six seasons in 1990. “ I was very fortunate. Now with Steve’s diagnosis, I’m 78 years old, and I’m the healthy one. It’s very hard to see your child go through something like this. I would certainly trade places with him in a heartbeat if I could.”
In the last 19 months, Steve Kragthorpe, a former head coach at Tulsa and Louisville, has faced his share of third and longs. He was fired by Louisville after the 2009 season. His wife, Cynthia, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease also without cure, in 2010 while Kragthorpe was just starting as receivers coach at Texas A& M. When heart complications related to the disease arose in his wife, Kragthorpe took the 2010 season off to be closer to her and his three sons.
“ It was shocking for both of them to be diagnosed with such serious diseases,” Dave Kragthorpe said. “ He stays in shape. His life is very active. His wife’s is, too. She still goes to the gym on her good days. What the doctors have said to both of them is it’s very good to remain active.”
With his wife’s heart condition improved, Kragthorpe was hired at LSU in January, charged with rejuvenating struggling senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s career. But last month while at a LSU football camp, Kragthorpe experienced involuntary hand and arm shaking. He saw a doctor in Dallas and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
The plan is for Kragthorpe, who now is on medication, to be at practice daily and contribute to the game plan. He also will be in the press box for games with newly appointed offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa.
“ Stress can certainly aggravate the symptoms,” said Michael Puente, a neurologist in New Orleans who is not treating Kragthorpe but is a Parkinson’s specialist.
“ What I tell my patients is . . . they need a good exercise program, plenty of rest, a good diet — just a healthy lifestyle. I do not tell them to stop working.”
Puente said most of his patients get Parkinson’s in their 60s: “ It’s not a good thing that he has it in his 40s. It gets worse as you get older, but medicine can control it. And there are surgery options.”
When Kragthorpe called his older brother last month with “ something to tell him,” Kurt Kragthorpe, a sports columnist at The Salt Lake Tribune, braced for bad news. But he was not ready for what he heard.
“ I automatically thought it would be about Cynthia because I looked at the calendar, and it was almost the exact same date that he left Texas A& M,” Kurt said. “ And I thought, ‘ It’s happening again.’ Then to find out that it involved him was just mindboggling. He’s never had any type of illness that was abnormal. . . . Just when Cynthia is getting better, this happens.”
Something else shocked Kurt Kragthorpe, 50 — his little brother’s delivery.
“ That was part of how startling it was,” he said. “ It was like he was tellingmewhat he had for lunch that day. And one of the first things he said was, ‘ I’ve got to keep coaching because of Jordan Jefferson.’ ”
So far through preseason practice, Kragthorpe has appeared fine.
“ He’s normal,” Jefferson said. “ The only thing different is he shakes a little bit. He told us that he was taking medication, and everything should be good within a few weeks. He’s good. He still walks, still jogs, still throws.”
There might have to be days off or missed games down the road, which is why head coach Les Miles promoted Studrawa so the No. 4 Tigers will have “ uninterrupted leadership” of the offense.
No one in the family asked Kragthorpe to stop coaching, according to brother and father.
“ He wants to coach as long as he can,” his father said. “ His plan is to try to get through this year and then think about next year.”
Reduced role: Steve Kragthorpe, right, gave up his play-calling duties and instead will work with quarterbacks such as Zach Mettenberger.