Sunday, 29 November 2015

Les Miles resolution puts end to embarrassing chapter at LSU

The last Saturday of November started with LSU coach Les Miles reportedly fighting for his job, or at least that's what a few rogue Tigers boosters wanted us to believe.

The night ended with Miles being carried off the field by his players after a 19-7 victory over Texas A&M at Death Valley. Once they finally put him down, he embraced his wife and children, as LSU's fans passionately chanted, "Keep Les Miles! Keep Les Miles!" Then he interrupted a live SEC Network on-field interview to sing LSU's alma mater, as only Les Miles would do, and tipped his hat to the crowd when he was finished.

Now please tell me again why a handful of LSU boosters wanted to pay Miles $15 million to go away?

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed in Baton Rouge. Thankfully, the people who are paid to make important decisions are more intelligent than the people who pay a lot of money to try to influence them. Finally, LSU ended what had become a very embarrassing internal tug-of-war.

Less than an hour after Miles was carried off the field, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said during a news conference: "I want to make it very clear and positive that Les Miles is our football coach and he will continue to be our football coach."

It has been quite a couple of weeks for Miles, after reports surfaced at ESPN and other media outlets that the Tigers were preparing to part ways with him, even though he's 111-32 in 11 seasons and guided LSU to the 2007 national championship. According to the reports, the Tigers were prepared to fire him and pay him a staggering $15 million buyout to leave.

There had to be at least some credence to the reports about his demise. Alleva and the rest of LSU's administration left Miles twisting in the wind, as speculation mounted that the Texas A&M game might be his last as LSU's coach. It wasn't until after the Tigers beat the Aggies to end a three-game losing streak that Alleva and LSU chancellor F. King Alexander informed Miles that he'd be returning as the Tigers' coach next season.

When Miles was asked how he was told the news, he answered in a way we might have expected.

"Telegraph," he said.

"It's nice to have them come and say the job you've been doing you can continue to do," Miles said.

Until Alleva made the announcement about Miles' future, it sure seemed that he might be coaching his final game at LSU. He seemed to soak up his surroundings as he and his team made their way from their team buses to Tiger Stadium through the "Tiger Walk." He was serenaded by fans during the team's Senior Day festivities during pregame ceremonies, and then, of course, was carried off the field on his players' shoulders when the game was over.

"I now know what it's like to ride an elephant," Miles said. "It scares you to death, and you just try to grab onto ears. I thought if I fell off the back, I'd break my neck. If I fell off the front, I'd bust my nose."

Unfortunately, Miles also now knows what it feels like to be a racehorse sent to the glue factory. If a certain faction of LSU boosters had their way, he would have been fired and replaced by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. Alleva and the others did nothing to stop the rampant speculation until late Saturday night.

"There are probably a couple of guys I'd like to meet in an alley and have a little street talk with, but I'm not built that way," Miles said.

It was evident the rumors took a toll on his players and probably his family as well.

"I'm a Miles," he said. "I've got clear focus and I'm not distracted easily."

There's no question Miles has problems to fix in LSU's program. Since losing to Alabama 21-0 in the BCS National Championship Game at the end of the 2011 season, the Tigers have dropped at least three games in each of the past four seasons. They're 16-8 in the past two, including a 9-7 mark against SEC foes.

LSU's struggling offense has been the biggest issue. The Tigers have scored 19 points or fewer in each of their past four games. Entering Saturday, LSU ranked 105th in FBS in passing with 182.1 yards per game. They've thrown only 12 touchdowns in 11 games, which is 32 fewer than Western Kentucky and 30 fewer than Bowling Green.

LSU's inability to develop a quarterback has largely made tailback Leonard Fournette a one-man offense. The past month proved that not even Fournette, who set an LSU single-season rushing record with 1,741 yards, can do it alone. Against Texas A&M, quarterback Brandon Harris completed only 7 of 21 passes for 83 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. It was the fourth time this season he threw for fewer than 100 yards in a game.

Miles hinted Saturday night that changes are coming to LSU's offense. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is in the final year of his contract, and Miles might be inclined to reshape his staff on that side of the ball. He stopped short of saying there would be a complete overhaul of his offense.

"Does the serious overhaul of this offense include Leonard Fournette? Are we taking away the running game?" Miles said. "There's not a serious overhaul because the engine seems to be pretty freakin' strong. Do we want to consider changes? You betcha. But I think an overhaul is a bit much."

There's still time for Miles to turn it around. A couple of years ago, many Oklahoma fans felt Bob Stoops' brand of football had become stale. Before this season, he hired East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, an "Air Raid" disciple, who installed a wide-open offense at OU. Now the Sooners are Big 12 champs, ranked No. 3 in the country and will probably have a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Wouldn't it be less embarrassing -- and, oh, about $13.5 million cheaper -- to hire an offensive coordinator like TCU's Doug Meacham or Sonny Cumbie or Arizona State's Mike Norvell to fix the problems on offense? Of course, Miles is going to have to swallow his pride a bit and completely turn over his offense to someone else. After the last couple of weeks, he's probably seen the writing on the wall, though.

At the end of the day, the LSU fans that wanted Miles to leave were most upset about his 0-5 record in the last five games against Alabama. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban preceded Saban at LSU and guided the Tigers to the 2003 national championship.

It's funny that LSU fans can't seem to remember that Saban left them for the Miami Dolphins. When Michigan tried to hire Miles as its coach in 2007, he didn't leave for his alma mater.

Miles wanted to stay at LSU, and that should damn well count for something.

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