What Tops NASA? Keeping LSU's Miles

Sean O'Keefe's résumé screams Mr. Fix-It, but dealing with LSU football was as challenging as anything he's dealt with.

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Sean O'Keefe's résumé screams Mr. Fix-It. As Navy secretary, he worked on military treaties and had to right the Tailhook scandal. As NASA chief, he put the agency back into space after the Columbia disintegration. So when he took over as chancellor at Louisiana State University in 2005, he could have expected a lighter load. Nope. First Hurricane Katrina hit the state, and he opened LSU to students stranded from their schools. And then the crisis of the decade: rumors that football coach Les Miles was being wooed by Michigan even as his team headed for the national championship against Ohio State. "I've had experience negotiating treaties with Russians and Europeans and the Japanese," O'Keefe tells us, "and this was right up there. The world of head coach relations is just about as challenging." Lucky for him, all Miles wanted was an extension, and O'Keefe delivered. But the pressure was great. "I could have hosed up a treaty 10 times and not got near the same grief I would have gotten here," says the school's boss. "All the preparation I ever went through in government all came into play to work this one out," he adds. Better yet, the controversy and successful ending brought lots of media attention. "That raises the visibility," he says, "and motivates people to take a second look at us."