Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

On The Spot: Les Miles

In the weeks leading up to kickoff, Blatant Homerism is looking at the who, what, when, where and why to keep an eye on during the 2008 season.

What would you pick as the biggest shock of what was the most unbelievable season in college football history?
Appalachian St. beating Michigan? What about Stanford's upset of USC? Kansas in the BCS?

For my money, it had to be the fact that LSU head coach Les Miles turned out to be the story of the year. In case you need a refresher, Miles:

  • Led his “damn strong team” to a 2-loss national championship;
  •  Flirted all season with his alma mater, Michigan, about replacing outgoing coach Lloyd Carr;
  • Allegedly stabbed Carr in the back on the recruiting trail over rumors about Carr’s health;
  • Supposedly reached an agreement with the Wolverines on the morning of the SEC Chmapionship Game, only to finagle a sweet new contract with LSU hours later, staging an impromptu press conference in between to tell the media to “have a great day;”
  • Became the latest coach to assume the "riverboat gambler" mantle in the media for his gutsy late-game gambles; and
  • Launched the latest hat-based fashion craze.
For an encore, he booted uber-recruit, serial indiscretionist and starting quarterback Ryan Perrilloux from the team in the spring.

As an OU fan, it's hard for me to accept that "Lesticles" is now supposed to be part of the coaching elite. I'll always remember him as Les the Ripper.
Miles' verbal stylings in front of the media made it easy for Sooner fans to paint him as a first-class jackass while he was head coach at Oklahoma St. That's what made it so hard to accept that he was such an unbelievable pain in OU's ass.
Miles' Cowboys capped off an unimpressive debut season in 2001 with a shocking upset of OU, the first of what became an annual rite of flat performances against lesser opponents. The embarrassing loss marked Stoops' first in Norman, and it also knocked the Sooners out of a potential date with Miami in the national championship game. In 2002, Miles drew up a blueprint for beating OU that has haunted the Sooners ever since. Looking to capitalize on an overaggressive Oklahoma defense, OSU used play action passing and misdirection runs to burn the OU defense time and again with big plays. Two years later, Miles' plucky squad put a major scare into a title game-bound Sooner squad, falling just short on a missed field goal as time expired.
It was a kind of irritating success that the state's red-headed stepchild wasn't supposed to have against the OU leviathan. Even worse, it was coming at a time when the Cowboys should have been rolling over.
Yet, despite his team's ability to rise to the occasion against OU, Miles still seemed like an underwhelming choice to follow Nick Saban at LSU. After all, Miles sported a 28-21 record in four seasons at OSU, and he hadn't exactly built up a reputation as a crackerjack recruiter. Once he took over in Baton Rouge, a perception quickly developed among Tiger faithful that the team had kept up its winning ways in spite of Miles, not because of him.
It seems somewhat fitting, then, that a team led by a coach like Miles won it all in college football's craziest year ever. The Tigers certainly deserved the title. One national championship later, though, Miles now supposedly occupies a spot in the upper-echelon of college football coaches. He's graduated from the ranks of Mike Belloti and Tommy Bowden to join Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel. I'm not ready to make that call.
Don’t forget that LSU won its biggest regular season games in 2007—Florida, Auburn, Virginia Tech—in Baton Rouge. It was a schedule built for a championship run. Even the BCS title game was played right down the road in New Orleans. (As an OU fan who attended the 2004 Sugar Bowl, I can attest to just how "neutral" of a setting that is.)
The Tigers struggled, however, in their toughest road tests against solid teams. LSU's first loss of the season came at Kentucky, while a late-season seven point win in Tuscaloosa required a miraculous finish in which the Tigers recovered a fumble inside the Tide five with less than two minutes to go. Give LSU a schedule like that of Georgia in 2007, which included trips to Tennessee and Florida, and it might have been a different story.
Also, the Tigers had arguably the most talented team in the country in 2007, yet they still needed some heaven-sent breaks to arrive where they did at the end of the season. Whenever the Tigers lost, the teams in front couldn't seal the deal. An injury to quarterback Pat White in West Virginia's season finale against Pittsburgh, for example, torpedoed the Mountaineers' championship aspirations. The same goes for the Sooners when quarterback Sam Bradford went down against Texas Tech.
Absolutely everything had to go right for LSU to back into the national championship game. And it did. 
That included some audacious gambles by Miles, such as a last-second touchdown against Auburn in which the coach apparently had lost track of the game clock. Time and again, Miles' celebrated bravado paid off. While the coach's go-for-broke attitude certainly made things interesting, he constantly treaded between glory and reckless, Tin Cup-style disaster. Give Miles credit for having faith in his team and taking chances in the situations that keep coaches up at night. But LSU very easily could have had five regular season losses had Miles' decisions gone the other way.
So I'd recommend reserving judgment on Miles until the end of this season. Entering his fourth year at LSU, Miles is dealing with the same kinds of problems that have dogged college football's upper crust. His defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini, left town for the head job at Nebraska. He's had to deal with star players turning into off-the-field distractions. He's replacing replacing campus legends like Matt Flynn and Glenn Dorsey with fresh-faced newcomers.
More importantly, this will be the first team that Miles truly can call his own. While the Tigers have received plenty of contributions from Miles' recuits, most of the talented stockpile Saban left behind has moved on. It's now up to The Mad Hatter to show that he can turn his own loaded recruiting classes into national championship contenders. How did that go for Larry Coker?